Did Verizon’s CTO just confirm LTE for the next iPhone?

The theory that Apple’s next handset is going to feature an LTE radio has been tossed about for several months now. In fact, a lot of folks expected the wireless technology to make its way into last year’s iPhone. But obviously that never materialized.

This year, however, it’s almost a given that Apple’s new smartphone will ship with LTE compatibility. After all, it’s new tablet did. But just in case you had any doubts, just read these recent comments made by Verizon Wireless CTO David Small…

In speaking with Dow Jones NewsWires, the Chief Technical Officer of the largest wireless carrier in the US had some interesting things to say about its LTE strategy. Apparently, Verizon is having trouble getting customers to switch to its faster network.

“Verizon Wireless has pumped billions into building out and promoting the high-speed data network known as 4G LTE, but the carrier has drawn just 5% of its customers to the faster network, as it has struggled to convince customers to upgrade from their 3G devices, most notably Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) popular iPhone.

The carrier said that for the rest of 2012, it would only unveil smartphones capable of running on its 4G LTE network. The statement suggests any new iPhone this year will be 4G LTE-capable.”

We’ve heard of Verizon’s “4G smartphones only” strategy before, but didn’t expect it to go into effect quite this early. It makes sense though, considering the carrier wants to drive more customers to its LTE network — which is expected to be in over 400 markets by year’s end.

At any rate, this looks like yet more evidence that Apple will be releasing an LTE-flavored handset this year. Verizon wouldn’t announce a 4G-only smartphone campaign without knowing that the maker of its most popular smartphone was on board.