As the dust finally settles post iPhone, the tech blogs and comments sections the internet over are overflowing as Apple vs Android owners get embroiled in largely pointless arguments over the various merits of their preferred platform. As far as my own predictions based on rumours go, the only significant things I got wrong were the name (iPhone 5, not the new iPhone-phew) – and the lack of 800MHz LTE support, which I’ll get onto shortly. (It all mounted to a rather anti-climatic reveal, which made me long for the days when Apple announcement leaks were rare).
As far as we’re concerned though the major news of course was that, as was entirely expected, the iPhone 5 now offers LTE support. Crucially, for European and Asian operators and their customers, the iPhone 5 now supports their networks too, thus avoiding the disappointment that many faced when they realised that the iPad 3, which was touted as 4G capable, in fact only operated on US, Canadian and Japanese LTE networks.
This time, Apple has laid out the exact specs of what countries that will get LTE support, but there are still a couple of major LTE limitations that some may not realise.
There are three SKU’s of iPhone 5 with different LTE chips– (the A1428) a GSM model supporting AT&T in the US and Canadian networks, and the A1429 CDMA model for Verizon, Sprint and KDDI in Japan and the A1429 GSM model for the rest of the world.
This means that if you buy an iPhone 5 in Europe, you won’t be able to roam in the US on LTE, at all. However, the CDMA A1429 supports 1800MHz, so if you buy that one in the US, you should then be able to use in on 1800MHz LTE networks in the UK such as EE.
Secondly, there is no support for 800MHZ and 2.6GHz frequencies at all, which many operators, such as O2 and Vodafone in the UK, will be using for LTE once the auctions are complete and they get their networks up and running. Therefore their customers are going to have to wait for the iPhone 6 to get LTE support.
This is a double whammy blow for O2 and Vodafone in the UK, as on top of losing customers defecting to EE to get LTE now, they also have to contend with the fact that some customer’s may not be willing to commit to a two-year contract on the iPhone 5.
The LTE chip inside the iPhone 5 is Qualcomm’s MDM9615M. It’s a very impressive chip, built on a 28nm manufacturing process which makes for low power consumption yet still supports LTE in both FDD and TDD flavours and 3G in DC-HSPA+, EV-DO Rev-B and TD-SCDMA guise – the latter making it well suited for China.
However, the multiple frequencies required for LTE clearly make it impractical to offer a single chip version and maintain performance and power. It looks as though we’ll have to wait at least a year for Europe/Asia and US support in a single device, Apple or otherwise, while the ‘world-phone’ status that the iPhone 4S offered to become a reality in a highly fragmented LTE world.
LTE roaming is one of the many topics on the agenda at the LTE Asia conference, coming up NEXT WEEK at the Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. If you’re interesting in attending, there’s still time to register here.