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Summary:

Apple is abandoning its usual deference to the big carriers, making the iPhone 5 immediately available to regional players. LTE support, though, is a toss up. Some have no 4G networks. Others don’t have the right bands. Cellcom, however, has all its 4G bases covered.

iPhone 5 product shot

Wisconsin regional carrier Cellcom won’t have to endure another long waiting period before it gets access to Apple’s newest smartphone. The iPhone 5 will go on sale at Cellcom on Sept. 28, just a week after it arrives at Verizon, AT&T and Sprint.

Cellcom isn’t the only small carrier to land the new iPhone. GCI, Appalachian Wireless, C Spire and Leap Wireless’s Cricket Communication will get the device this month as well. But Cellcom has an advantage those other carriers don’t: namely a network covering 230 million people.

Based in Green Bay, Wis., Cellcom was one of the first carriers to participate in Verizon’s LTE in Rural America program, in which Big Red leases portions of its 700 MHz 4G spectrum to regional carriers, who in turn use it to build out LTE networks. As part of the package, Verizon and its partners sign reciprocal roaming agreements. Verizon gets access to Cellcom’s LTE in footprint covering the population centers of eastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, while Cellcom gets access to Verizon’s footprint of 230 million in nearly 400 markets. Not a bad trade.

Cellcom’s LTE coverage through its roaming agreement with Verizon

LTE is still young in the US, and so most of the carrier haven’t yet brokered the roaming deals that interlock carriers 2G and 3G networks – and one of the big fears of rural operators is they never will get brokered. But Verizon’s rural LTE program is the exception as Verizon seeks to fill in the gaps between major markets as quickly as possible. Appalachian Wireless is also part of the program though it has yet to deploy a network.

While Leap and C Spire will definitely enjoy the prestige only the iPhone can bring, some of the device’s appeal may suffer from the limitations of their own LTE networks. C Spire launched its LTE network earlier this week in a handful of Mississippi markets and plans to have a coverage in 31 markets by the end of October. But it’s not clear if the iPhone 5 will work over its 4G networks. C Spire hasn’t confirmed what spectrum it is using for LTE, according to FierceWireless, but if it is using the 700 MHz A block spectrum it bought at auction for LTE, then its iPhone 5 will most definitely be sans-LTE. None of the three versions Apple announced Wednesday support that band.

Leap Wireless is still in the process of rolling out its LTE network that will cover 21 million people by year end, but so far it’s been slow going with only a single market live, Tucson, Oka. Leap will also have some spectrum issues supporting the iPhone. It is deploying its LTE network over three bands: PCS, Advanced Wireless Services, and the same 700 MHz A block used by C Spire.

The new iPhone supports the first two bands but only in separate variants. The CDMA model – which Leap will have to sell in order to use its 2G and 3G networks – only supports the PCS band. So how well Leap can take advantage of the iPhone 5’s capabilities depends on how much PCS spectrum it can devote to the LTE band.

Meanwhile GCI has yet to reveal its LTE plans so its iPhone 5 will automatically be a 3G-only device.

  1. Its nice to see carriers actually try to work together for once, too bad my new iPhone doesn’t support simultaneous Voice (3G) and Data (4G LTE) or VoLTE. Apple really mucked that up and of course it will likely take another 2 years for them to advance their design to match what Android OEM’s have been doing for 2 years already.

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    1. That has to do with using a CDMA and not a GSM carrier. Nothing to do with iPhone.

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      1. Lte is not CDMA

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  2. you can use voice and data at the same time using a samsung galaxy s3 LTE on verizon or sprint* (where available). It has more to do with the iphone 5′s integrated cdma/lte chip design.

    “The iPhone 5 is designed to allow customers to make voice calls on the Verizon Wireless network and surf the Web on Wi-Fi,” she said in an e-mail. “It was an Apple decision.”
    That means when AT&T customers place a phone call and use data on the iPhone 5, both functions will roll back to AT&T’s older network, which can handle them simultaneously. When you place a phone call while using data in an app with a Verizon or Sprint iPhone 5, it will roll back to their older CDMA networks, which are not capable of simultaneously doing calls and data. And that’s why the iPhone 5 on Verizon and Sprint, despite being a 4G LTE device, will still not do both at the same time.

    An Apple spokeswoman, Natalie Kerris, put it this way: “iPhone 5 supports simultaneous voice and data on GSM-based 3G and LTE networks. It is not yet possible to do simultaneous voice and data on networks that use CDMA for voice and LTE for data in a single radio design.”
    Then why didn’t Apple add another antenna? Its phone already has two antennas in an effort to improve reception, and it would have had to add a third antenna just for Verizon and Sprint phones to give them simultaneous data and calls, Mr. Shimpi explained. Leaving that third antenna out allows Apple to simplify the process of manufacturing the iPhone for multiple carriers. Plus, in the next two years, 4G LTE technology is supposed to evolve to support voice calls, which would render another antenna unnecessary.
    So why does Verizon’s Samsung Galaxy S III, a 4G LTE phone, juggle calls and data? Samsung added an extra antenna so that it pulls data from the 4G LTE network at the same time that it’s using another antenna to do voice, said Anand Shimpi, editor in chief of AnandTech.

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  3. Been on a list to get a Iphone 5 from Cellcom for over 5 weeks. They don’t really carry them, just advertise they do to get you in the door!!

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    1. They do carry them not really sure where you’re trying to get yours from but I got mine the first day cellcom had its release.

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  4. as in which cellcom

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    1. Kevin Fitchard Monday, November 12, 2012

      Hi Dan,

      There’s only one Cellcom in the US. There’s a CellCom Israel, but this is pretty clearly a US story.

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