Rumors of a Verizon iPhone have been steady for a while now. The recent Bloomberg pronouncement that the iPhone is coming to Verizon in January 2011 has taken it to a new pitch. But what no one seems to be talking about are the logistics of making this happen. There will be two major, major hurdles to jump. One is short-term, the other long-term.

  1. How do you get iPhones into the hands of all the Verizon customers that want one without declaring martial law around Verizon and Apple stores?
  2. How can Verizon’s network handle the load?

Let’s look at some numbers.

According to PCWorld, a survey by ChangeWave indicates that 19% of Verizon customers are very likely to buy an iPhone. Another 34% are somewhat likely to buy one.

That’s about 17 million customers who would want an iPhone right away and another 31 million who might want one.

Now let’s add in the AT&T customers who are likely to swim over to Verizon’s ship once the iPhone lands on deck there.

Bloomberg reports that as many as 1 million AT&T iPhone users would switch to Verizon. In my opinion, this figure is probably on the low side. AT&T’s customer satisfaction seems to be continually sliding downhill, and when Apple fixes the iPhone 4’s signal display to show 2 fewer bars in most places, that’s not going to improve the perception (or reception) of AT&T’s network at all.

But anyway, that’s a total of about 18 million new Verizon iPhones needed pretty quickly after launch in 2011. To put that in perspective, AT&T’s total existing iPhone user base is 18 million. And then you have potentially another 31 million iPhone-wanters later on.

Within a year of the iPhone’s launch, Verizon could have as many as 50 million customers who want an iPhone if these numbers are anywhere close to true. Yikes.

As magical as Apple’s production process is, Jobs still can’t snap his fingers and have millions and millions of new iPhones appear instantly. It will take time to manufacture enough iPhones to meet the untapped vein of demand in Verizon’s customer base.

In other words, not everyone that wants a Verizon iPhone will get theirs day one, or even month one.

It will be interesting to see how Apple (and Verizon) implement lessons learned this summer. If releasing iPhone 4 to existing AT&T customers caused such a meltdown, imagine what happens when you let millions and millions of Verizon customers out of the gate?

And there’s that network thing. We Verizon faithful like to boast how good the network is, but can it really handle that much traffic? Will Verizon fall victim to the iPhone’s success just like AT&T has?

One thing seems likely to come out of all this. Data prices are going to get more expensive before they get cheaper. The US wireless broadband infrastructure will bear a heavy load for the foreseeable future as phone makers like Apple keep giving us more and more reason to consume data through the air.

All of this extra data demand will push the Verizons and AT&Ts of the world to make their networks better. We will probably have amazing wireless broadband networks in the US in ten years. Until then, expect some traffic jams.