Friday, September 14, 2012

iPhone 5 will only support 4G services on EE's network

The BBC report that Apple's new iPhone 5 will only support 4G mobile broadband services on EE's 4G network as a consequence it operating in the 1800MHz band:
"The iPhone 5 is the first of Apple's handsets to support 4G, but it has been optimised for just three spectrum bands - the 1800MHz band, which EE has been allowed to use for 4G services, the 850MHz, which doesn't work in the UK, and the 2.1GHz band, which currently only supports 3G services. Apple has taken the view the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands, for which O2 and Vodafone and other operators will be able to bid at auction in spring 2013, are not "developed enough", according to Matthew Howett, an analyst with research firm Ovum."
More details of Ofcom's forthcoming 4G spectrum auction here. So even when they've acquired 4G spectrum via the auction process, other operators will not be able to offer a 4G service via the iPhone 5 in its current form (however the iPhone 5 will work on all operators' slower 3G networks). In the same article, the BBC report that O2 are seeking to accelerate the auction process, and also discusses the other options available to operators:
"O2 and Vodafone could petition Ofcom to allow them to reuse the 3G band for 4G services. But Mr Howett said: "The 3G band is heavily occupied. Ofcom has said it could take five to 10 years to free up the 3G spectrum for 4G." An alternative would be to launch legal action to prevent EE from rolling out its 4G network."
Operators recently agreed to a one-month stand still period to enable discussions to continue, with a view to finding a collaborative way forward and preventing any further litigation which would delay the auction process. EE, one of the signatories, has agreed not to launch its 4G services until after this period has closed. 3 is the only other operator that will be able to offer 4G services via the iPhone 5, but not for a while yet:
"3 is the only other UK operator who has the opportunity to launch 4G services that will work with the new iPhone. It recently bought some of Everything Everywhere's 1800MHz spectrum although it is not allowed to launch services until September 2013."
The Financial Times ("4G operators gain iPhone 5 head start") reports that this is issue is not unique to Apple:
"...all handset makers are having to choose which bandwidth to support. There are more than 40 officially recognised bands for 4G. In Europe, the normal 4G specifications are 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2.6GHz."
The same article reports that O2 will offer "iPhone customers a “4G handset guarantee” facilitating an upgrade when it had a 4G network next year". So presumably new iPhone 5 customers on O2 will be able to upgrade to a handset that will work on O2's 4G network once it's in place?

Nothing in the world of 4G is ever simple it seems.

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