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Summary:

Make no mistake: T-Mobile will get the iPhone. It’s just highly unlikely that it will get it next week as Merrill Lynch is predicting. T-Mobile is still in the early stages of a network overhaul that will make it compatible with the iPhone’s 3G radios.

t-mobile-iphone-feature

A Merrill Lynch analyst is hearing buzz that Apple could make the dreams of millions of T-Mobile customers come true next week by announcing the availability of its iconic smartphone on the nation’s fourth largest – and so far iPhone-less – carrier, Fortune reports. While there’s a possibility we might see some kind Apple-T-Mo announcement on Thursday, we’re probably not going to see an actual T-Mobile iPhone next week or even this year.

T-Mobile’s networks simply aren’t ready yet. The reason T-Mobile has been left off the iPhone bandwagon for so long is that its HSPA networks don’t support the PCS 3G bands the iPhone uses. T-Mobile is fixing that issue, moving its network down the electromagnetic spectrum as part of a nationwide overhaul.

T-Mobile, however, has officially completed that upgrade in only 15 cities. If the iPhone were to go live next week, the vast majority of T-Mobile’s customers who bought it would experience only 2G speeds. That’s to say nothing of the iPhone 5’s LTE capabilities, which T-Mobile won’t support until the second half of 2013. Considering the iPhone is first and foremost a mobile data device, I don’t think even Apple is willing to unleash it on a network that can perform only a fraction of the data functions it was designed for.

Mobilize 2012 Neville Ray T-Mobile

Neville Ray, CTO, T-Mobile (c) 2012 Pinar Ozger pinar@pinarozger.com

That said, T-Mobile is aggressively completing its network overhaul, and it has been inviting customers with unlocked iPhones to sign up for SIM-card service. Readers have reported receiving T-Mobile PCS HSPA+ signals all over the country, especially in big metro markets like New York City and Chicago. T-Mo CTO Neville Ray has promised a “material” portion of its footprint will be iPhone-ready by the end of the year.

Make no mistake: the iPhone is bound for T-Mobile. It’s just a question of technology and timing. But unless Ray can somehow complete his nationwide overhaul in the next few weeks, the timing just isn’t right. Logistically that seems impossible, even for network miracle-worker like Ray. In recent weeks, T-Mobile has even tried to distance itself from Apple, claiming the iPhone isn’t necessarily worth the sacrifices.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll hear something from Apple next week about a T-Mobile iPhone, maybe even a commitment to partner with T-Mobile sometime in the future. One of the new iPhone-ready markets T-Mobile announced last week was Apple’s hometown of Cupertino, Calif. You can’t argue with that symbolism. But I wouldn’t hold my breath on getting a magenta iPhone by Christmas.

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  1. Sprint isn’t ready either with LTE in a few Metro areas and a handful of small towns but look at them!

    1. Hi Seth,

      Good point, but I think there is a distinct difference between LTE and 3G. With only a GPRS/EDGE connection, a lot of key apps on the iPhone won’t work or will work badly. Even browsing would be a slog. An EV-DO connection is no LTE, but it gets the job done in most cases.

      1. Comparing Sprint’s 1-2 bars EVDO and broad 1X network to T-Mobile’s EDGE is completely acceptable. Sprint’s EVDO is often patchy and clocks in at 0.1-0.3Mbps second (just making general judgements about my tri-state area, your milage may vary).

        EDGE is no less competitive.

        Besides, 15 towns of DC-HSPA+ means T-Mobile can achieve theoretical LTE-equivalent speeds in about 10 more towns than Sprint right now with their pitiful LTE rollout.

  2. Michael W. Perry Thursday, November 29, 2012

    What would be great is if T-Mobile would work out an agreement with Apple/AT&T to unlock post-contract iPhones. T-Mobile should have included that in their merger-fails agreement.

    1. Gary Dee, Portland, Oregon Michael W. Perry Thursday, November 29, 2012

      I believe that T-Mobile’s BYOD deal includes unlocking your post-contract AT&T iPhone …

    2. Hi Michael, AT&T is unlocking old iPhones are the contract is paid off. You should be able to call customer service and get it done over the phone.

  3. Given the historical trend for myself, I think this *can* happen. I have waited for iPhone on TMO since the first launch, and just now, this week ordered myself a Nexus 4. Now, this is perfect alignment in my historical trends, that this will happen now! :(

  4. The T-Mobile store I often visit had iphone 5 cases they had JUST received and were just putting them on peg hooks just today. Could be a sign its happening soon.

  5. I have an iPhone 4 right now on T-mobile. I don’t mind Edge so much. All my apps work. Yes, maps takes a little longer (5.1.1). Some emails take a bit longer. But I seldom have a need to download an app away from wifi. And I can’t think of a single app that I can’t use or becomes unusable because I have an Edge only connection.

    My experience. My two cents. Enjoy. : ]

  6. I have an iPhone 4 on T-Mobile and I only get EDGE speeds where I am, but I have gotten 3G (which is really HSPA+ “4G”) while traveling. But I agree with Oneblessedguy, not a single app doesn’t work on EDGE, even Waze GPS works pretty much flawlessly. So yes, it is slower and sometimes annoying, but I’ve had it for over a year and still wouldn’t go back to Android. But I’m hoping for a deal this week with Apple that will include a T-Mo chipset compatible with AWS for the iPhone 5!

  7. I’m with all of you that are on T-Mobile and would not go back to the Android phone (and never Windows). My iPhone 4s works as well speed-wise as the Android, but in convenience, ease of use and compatibility with my iPad and MacBooks for syncing, there is no comparison! I would like to be able to surf and talk or talk and get/send email at the same time, which I could on the Android, but still wouldn’t go back … it will come. I would like to see the iPhone 5 on TMO, but may get another unlocked if it doesn’t come. I used to buy unlocked with Palm when TMO stopped supporting them and the iPhone is light years ahead of where Palm was (and not so much more money), plus Apple offers a far better and cheaper insurance plan and blessed support!!! For me, truly a justified business expense! I was also able to find a blog to help me turn on the personal hotspot, which TMO was denying possible when I got my iPhone, so if you want that … do a search; it is really easy (because I was able to do it). Here’s hoping for an early Christmas present with TMO and iPhone this week!

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