T-Mobile wants the iPhone, but only if it’s AWS-compatible

Image of T-Mobile lanyards courtesy of Flickr user Stefan Evertz.

In an official statement released on Thursday, T-Mobile SVP of Marketing Andrew Sherrard addressed T-Mobile’s absence from the lineup of U.S. carriers offering the iPhone — a list that now even includes regional carrier C Spire. Essentially, T-Mobile wants it but only if it works with the carrier’s tech.

T-Mobile’s 3G and “4G” (HSPA+, not LTE) technologies are based on the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum band, which is operational only in the U.S and Canada. The way that T-Mobile’s network operates now, the only network speeds that an iPhone on T-Mobile can achieve are 2G or EDGE. Despite that limitation, there are still a large number of unlocked devices using the carrier’s service.

Basically, T-Mobile’s official position is that it likes and wants the iPhone, but it can’t have it until Apple decides to make an AWS-compatible version. Here’s how Sherrard puts it:

T-Mobile thinks the iPhone is a good device and we’ve expressed our interest to Apple to offer it to our customers. Ultimately, it is Apple’s decision. The issue remains that Apple has not developed a version of the iPhone with technology that works on our fast 3G and 4G networks. We believe a capable version of the iPhone for our 3G and 4G networks would offer an additional compelling option for our customers on a fast 4G network.

The rest of the official statement is a game attempt by T-Mobile to push the advantages of its competing smartphone options that do work with the AWS spectrum, citing things like “bigger screens” and a “more advanced camera on the HTC Amaze 4G.”

While the statement is new, the underlying sentiment is not. At our Mobilize conference in September, T-Mobile CMO and EVP Cole Brodman admitted that the company wouldn’t be part of the upcoming iPhone launch. But the need to address its absence again in an official press release highlights just how much the lack of an iPhone puts T-Mobile at a disadvantage compared to its main competition in Verizon, Sprint and AT&T. AT&T just announced that it had seen its highest-ever new device activations for the iPhone 4S launch, so it’s very possible that T-Mobile is shedding customers to the other carriers as they seek out the latest from Apple.

The iPhone 4S is a so-called “world phone,” with a sophisticated antenna capable of communicating with either GSM or CDMA cellular networks, but I find it unlikely that Apple will ever go out of its way to make the smartphone AWS-compatible. AWS has a limited worldwide reach, and it doesn’t factor in at all in Apple’s fastest-growing market, China. At this point, T-Mobile’s best hope for getting an iPhone is probably the proposed merger with AT&T, and the future of that deal is anything but certain.

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