According to 9to5Mac, Apple is negotiating with Verizon about delivering over-the-air iOS updates starting with iOS 5.
Multiple sources say the new feature will debut in iOS 5, meaning iOS 5 will not come over-the-air but following point updates to it will. Just like tethering in iOS 3, Apple has the technology but cannot just unleash it everywhere. Apple and Verizon Wireless are said to have been in talks over these wireless software updates since early this year.
An over-the-air update system would allow users to download the iOS update directly to their phone over 3G or Wi-Fi and update their phone to the latest version without connecting to iTunes. Android devices already offer this feature.
Due to the high bandwidth requirement, it seems Apple needs to negotiate deals with individual carriers to allow such a system to take place. We should note that Apple's iOS is partially capable of this functionality already. The Apple TV which is based on iOS 4 offers "over the air" updates with no iTunes syncing required. The Apple TV, however, stores little customer data so backups are not as critical as with iPhone and iPad devices.