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Summary:

With 17 4G bands spread among four different phone variants, the new iPhone 5c and 5s will support LTE networks in dozens of new carriers in dozens of new countries. China Mobile, though, will have to wait.

Apple isn’t skimping on the radios for its new “budget” iPhone, the 5c. At its official unveiling Apple said both it and the new 5s would support more LTE bands than any other smartphone in the world. And it wasn’t kidding. Accompanying the new device’s launch is a long list of 17 bands covering most of the world’s commercially deployed 4G networks.

But it looks like the one carrier everyone was holding their breath for, China Mobile will have to wait. Ironically, while the new iPhones will support the carrier’s forthcoming LTE networks, they don’t support the unique Chinese flavor of CDMA China Mobile uses for 3G. Unless Apple plans on unveiling a new device specifically for China Mobile tomorrow at its separately planned Chinese media event, it looks like this is one iPhone rumor that will turn out false.

The rest of the world, including other Chinese carriers, is pretty much covered though. Apple isn’t actually achieving this kind of global reach in a single device. It’s producing multiple variants of its two new iPhones – just as it did last year for the iPhone 5. Instead of three variants, both the 5s and 5c have four variants each, touting band plans targeting different regions of the world. Apple is even offering support in one of those iPhone sets for time-division LTE (TD-LTE), a different configuration of the LTE standard that will allow the iPhone to work on future 4G networks in China, India, Australia, the Middle East and Africa and other parts of Asia. (Sprint’s forthcoming TD-LTE deployment, as of yet, is not supported.)

iPhone 5 event Phil Schiller

Apple was late to the LTE party, which made sense given its strategy of making globally appealing devices. By the time the iPhone 5 arrived last year, LTE had really only established a firm beachhead in North America and several Asian countries. Consequently it had limited support for LTE bands outside of those countries. Most notably snubbed were many European operators and the new TD-LTE networks in Asia.

But Apple has closed the gap with the launch of this year’s line. The iPhone 5S and 5C will be pan-European phones. Apple has made variants of both devices that will target all three major European 3G bands: 800 MHz, 1800 MHz, and 2.6 GHz. And though there are several operators in Asia and Europe that aren’t on Apple’s list of LTE-supported carriers, many of their networks are still in the trial stages, which means they could tap the phones’ 4G radios when their networks launch.

iPhone 5CTwo operators notably not on the list of LTE support are NTT DoCoMo and China Mobile. While NTT DoCoMo will get its both new iPhones – its first – on Sept. 20, apparently they won’t support the carrier’s numerous specialty LTE bands. (Update: NTT DoCoMo will have LTE on it’s iPhone after all. Apple Wednesday evening updated its international LTE support page to include the Japanese mobile giant.)

China Mobile, the world’s largest operator, could eventually attach the TD-LTE iPhones to its future 4G networks, but without a commitment from Apple to support its 3G TD-SCDMA networks you won’t see it offering the iPhone any time soon.

Apple also got within spitting distance of building an iPhone that will work across all major U.S. networks. AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile are getting the same set of devices. The lone rider here is Sprint, which due to its LTE launch in the PCS band will share the 5s and 5c with Japan’s KDDI and its new parent SoftBank.

But Apple threw Sprint a big bone in this latest refresh. Its variant will support the new LTE network Sprint is launching over its old Nextel iDEN spectrum later this year. That means Sprint iPhone users will be able to tap into two of its three LTE networks, though they’ll have to wait to get access to the enormous potential capacity of Sprint’s planned TD-LTE network.

The 5 and the 5S themselves support up 100 Mbps on the downlink, despite the fact that there are already 150 Mbps LTE networks popping up around the world. Still Apple is going for reach here, so it can afford to wait out another iPhone refresh cycle before upgrading its chips to faster speeds. The important thing is more people get access to multi-megabit 4G connections, rather than optimizing the device for the most advanced networks.

  1. What I don’t understand is why there’s a separate variant for Sprint. If you check the band lists on Apple’s site, the Sprint variant (A1453/A1456) has all of the bands that the other three carriers do (A1533/A1532), plus bands 18 and 26. What was stopping them from just having the latter version for the whole United States?

    By the way, taking into account color and sizes, there are 36 variants of the 5s and 40 variants of the 5c. Yikes.

    1. Hi Steven,

      Good question. My best guess is Sprint wants to use the same phones as its parent SoftBank. Why I have no idea. There isn’t exactly a lot of crossover between users.

  2. Not sure why you say Docomo LTE won’t be supported, the iPhone 5S/c supports bands 1 and 19 which Docomo is currently offering LTE on? It’s also stated on the iPhone LTE page: http://www.apple.com/iphone/LTE/

    1. Hi Martin,

      It looks like Apple updated its LTE page to include DoCoMo. It wasn’t there before. That answers that question. I’m updating the post.

  3. So is it absolutely confirmed about the 800 mhz lte band in the sprint model? The reason i ask is because it is the deciding factor for my upgrade. Sprint representatives seem to know absolutely nothing about the matter. Thanks.

    1. Hi Brandonlmbrt,

      I only have the info that Apple has given me. You can see for yourself: http://www.apple.com/iphone/LTE/

      It looks to me that they’re packing as much 800 MHz (across all of the different bands) support into Sprint’s variant as possible.

  4. The question is how are they doing it. Did they really stuff that many GaAs power amps into the iPhone or did they go with Qualcomm’s RF360?

    1. Very good question, slacker. I’ve asked Apple just that, and I’ll definitely write a post as soon as I hear back. Who would have thought we would be getting so excited about an RF front end? :)

  5. Nikhil @ MobileJury.com Wednesday, September 11, 2013

    4G is a must for all the new upcoming devices.

  6. I have a question regarding the UK.
    Can the unlocked (T-Mobile) version also support LTE networks in the UK?
    My friend constantly travels between the US and UK and I was wondering if one model can do both given the higher integration in comparison to the iPhone 5.

    Can someone please confirm?

    Thank You

    1. Hi Andrew,

      The U.S. T-Mobile version (A1532 GSM 5c, A1533 GSM 5s) will work on one European band 1800 MHz, but it doesn’t have support for 2.6 GHz or 800 MHz. So if your friend is on a carrier that primarily uses 1800 MHz (EE for instance), that set up could work.

      1. What about vice versa? would an unlocked UK iPhone work with AT&T/T-Mobile LTE?

      2. Are you sure?? According to Apple’s LTE compatibility chart the U.S. T-Mobile models A1532 & A1533 support not only LTE 20 band (800 DD), but also LTE 19 band (800 MHz), whereas the European models A1507 & A1457 models support only the former, and not the latter LTE band. In other words the U.S. models seem to provide better support for 800, which would probably support Vodafone U.K. and O2 U.K.’s new LTE bands.

        Am I not right? Or am I making a substantial mistake or overlooking an important fact?

  7. I appears for fake 4G (3G), all US models now support both AT&T & T-Mobile bands.

    UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz)
    GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)

    – Model A1532/A1533 (GSM: AT&T, T-Mobile)
    – Model A1532/A1533 (CDMA: Verizon)
    – Model A1453/A1456 (CDMA: Sprint)

  8. So if I frequently travel between the US and Europe and purchased the 5c in the US, that phone will not support voice communications on the European GSM bands? Looks like Apple has quietly taken away the ability to use one phone in US/Europe??

  9. Hi Kevin,
    I have a question i hope you would help.

    I’m planning on buying an unlocked iphone 5s in the US to be used back in Singapore.
    According to this site, http://www.apple.com/iphone/LTE
    If i bought an unlocked 5s, which would be the Model A1533 (GSM),
    would i be able to get LTE connection in Singapore?
    I asked because according to the web, Singapore is under the Model A1530.

    Do different models make a different?
    Thank you for your time :)

  10. hi guys,

    I want to buy an Ihpone 5c in the states and bring it home to use in UK and Ireland, I know EE is probably the only network I can use it on at the moment in the UK, does anyone know of any Irish networks that will support it as well?

    Also if I did this, would the internet work as normal if I moved to EE, Im new to all this LTE stuff and I have been advised by Apple employees not to buy American phones but Im travelling over and there really is such a saving, Im thinking about taking the risk

    Any advice is greatly appreciated, I dont want to come back to England and have a phone that doesnt work and no guarantee or warranty.

    Cheers,

    Katherine

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