It’s not LTE, but Apple’s iPhone 5 (s aapl) will support HSPA+ mobile broadband technology, which could let it reach download speeds of up to 21 Mbps, according to reports on Thursday. That will let it take advantage of AT&T’s (s t) so-called “4G” network in the U.S., which is actually a bridge to true LTE tech and uses HSPA+.
The original report comes from Japanese IT news site PC Watch (via MacRumors), which photographed a slide from a presentation by China Unicom VP Huan Wenilang. The slide lists the iPhone models to date, along with the wireless network technology each phone supports. The iPhone 5 caps the list, and while there is no image of the device, its network capabilities are listed as “HSPA+,” with speeds of “21 Mbps.” China Unicom is currently Apple’s only carrier partner in China, although talks are reportedly in progress between Apple and China Telecom and China Mobile, too.
In June, rumors surfaced that the iPhone would gain HSPA+ support, providing AT&T with an advantage over its competitors in terms of potential network speed for this generation of Apple smartphones. While AT&T markets HSPA+ as “4G,” it’s actually more like faux-G, since current-gen LTE should eventually hit around 100 Mbps in theory. Unlike LTE, however, HSPA+ is already widely deployed in many markets around the world, which would make it more useful to a broader subsection of customers in an iPhone 5 than true 4G support.
Given Apple’s track record of waiting to introduce new network technologies until its deployment actually covers a wide range of customers, I think HSPA+ inclusion in the iPhone 5 is a safe bet. As to whether or not it will provide a significant competitive advantage for AT&T, I think that’s a lot less certain. Mobile users seem not to place too high an emphasis on network speeds when making buying decisions, after all.