T-Mobile once again missed out on the newest release of the iPhone to the disappointment of many of its customers. But T-Mo and Apple’s mutual fans do have some reason to celebrate: The configuration of the iPhone 5 matches up perfectly with T-Mobile’s planned 3G and 4G network bands – the carrier only needs to complete its network retrofit to support it.
Apple is releasing three different versions of the iPhone to handle the huge number of LTE bands globally. One of them is tuned to the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum over which T-Mobile will launch its LTE network next year. So if you want to buy an iPhone 5 and bring it over to T-Mo in the future, buy the AT&T/Canadian version.
T-Mobile has long been denied the iPhone – not because of some feud with Apple, but because its mobile broadband frequencies simply didn’t match up with Apple’s universal smartphone. But since this summer, T-Mobile has been playing musical chairs with its spectrum.
T-Mobile has already started moving its HSPA+ network to the PCS band, where it can play nicely with all versions of the iPhone’s 3G radios. So far it’s only a few markets, but T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray has informed us that the carrier will have a “material footprint on HSPA+ at 1900 MHz by the end of the year.” That means all versions of the iPhone will work on T-Mobile’s 3G network over a portion – however big “material” is – in just a few short months.
Once that HSPA+ transition is complete, T-Mobile will begin filling in the gap left in the AWS band with LTE, a project it expects to complete in the second half of the year. At that point, all of T-Mobile’s networks will be in complete alignment with AT&T. That means all generations of iPhones will function on T-Mo’s network just as they would on AT&T’s. T-Mobile’s Ray will share more details about his LTE rollout plan at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference next week in San Francisco.
Of course, that doesn’t mean T-Mobile will become an official iPhone distributor. It still has to broker a deal directly with Apple, which would force T-Mobile to make a big financial commitment. I have little doubt though that T-Mobile will immediately jump at the chance to add the iPhone to its portfolio. The lack of the device has been hitting it hard in recent quarters. To prime the market, T-Mobile has been aggressively encouraging customers with unlocked phones to join its network.