Blog Post

iPhone 5 is ripe for T-Mobile once it finishes network overhaul

T-Mobile once again missed out on the newest release of the iPhone(s aapl) to the disappointment of many of its customers. But T-Mo and Apple’s(s AAPL) mutual fans do have some reason to celebrate: The configuration of the iPhone 5 matches up perfectly with T-Mobile’s planned 3G and 4G network bands – the carrier only needs to complete its network retrofit to support it.

Apple is releasing three different versions of the iPhone to handle the huge number of LTE bands globally. One of them is tuned to the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum over which T-Mobile will launch its LTE network next year. So if you want to buy an iPhone 5 and bring it over to T-Mo in the future, buy the AT&T/Canadian version.

Outside the Apple iPhone 5 event Sept. 12

T-Mobile has long been denied the iPhone – not because of some feud with Apple, but because its mobile broadband frequencies simply didn’t match up with Apple’s universal smartphone. But since this summer, T-Mobile has been playing musical chairs with its spectrum.

T-Mobile has already started moving its HSPA+ network to the PCS band, where it can play nicely with all versions of the iPhone’s 3G radios. So far it’s only a few markets, but T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray has informed us that the carrier will have a “material footprint on HSPA+ at 1900 MHz by the end of the year.” That means all versions of the iPhone will work on T-Mobile’s 3G network over a portion – however big “material” is – in just a few short months.

Once that HSPA+ transition is complete, T-Mobile will begin filling in the gap left in the AWS band with LTE, a project it expects to complete in the second half of the year. At that point, all of T-Mobile’s networks will be in complete alignment with AT&T. That means all generations of iPhones will function on T-Mo’s network just as they would on AT&T’s.(s T) T-Mobile’s Ray will share more details about his LTE rollout plan at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference next week in San Francisco.

Of course, that doesn’t mean T-Mobile will become an official iPhone distributor. It still has to broker a deal directly with Apple, which would force T-Mobile to make a big financial commitment. I have little doubt though that T-Mobile will immediately jump at the chance to add the iPhone to its portfolio. The lack of the device has been hitting it hard in recent quarters. To prime the market, T-Mobile has been aggressively encouraging customers with unlocked phones to join its network.

49 Responses to “iPhone 5 is ripe for T-Mobile once it finishes network overhaul”

  1. If I do get an unlocked Iphone 5 and flash it to t-mobile will it still have the same functions as a regular phone? For example picture messaging or internet usage ?

    • Kevin,

      I have been doing some research but cant find the simple answer. I have T-Mo, I have a Nokia X-6 which is 28mos. old. I am considering either an unlocked Samsung Galaxy S3 or an unlocked iPhone 4S. I’d like to stay with T-Mo and realize I will not be getting optimum performance from either phone but, will it eventually get better or always be the same ?

  2. I’ve been a satisfied T-Mobile customer for 12 years, even when coverage wasn’t very good the customer service was excellent. I could care less about the iPhone because the Samsung S III is great.

  3. I see… What advantages does the GSM version have over the CDMA version of the iPhone when it comes to traveling overseas? I know the GSM/At&t model has a sim card, right? Does that make a big difference?

    • Kevin Fitchard

      That’s a tougher question. They all have SIMs since LTE requires SIM cards, but the CDMA one won’t work the way you’d expect a SIM card. It really only controls the LTE radios, and I’m not sure the same SIM element works with the GSM, HSPA side of the radio stack.

      In general, though all of the devices support global 2G and 3G bands. The really big differences are CDMA support and number of LTE bands. If you to Canada a bunch and want to use LTE, the AT&T GSM version is best. If you want as many other LTE bands as possible, it seems the VZ one is the best bet.

  4. I’m interested in getting the new iphone, but don’t want to go to At&t. I was really hoping it would come on tmobile because I travel alot and need a phone that will work overseas. Do the Sprint/Verizon CDMA networks work as well overseas as At&T’s GSM does on the iphone?

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hi Leel, the Verizon versions are global devices, so they not only have support for 2G and 3G international networks, it will even pick up a handful on international LTE networks in Europe and Asia. One caveat though, Verizon has to sign roaming agreements with these international carriers so there’s a chance that some or all of the international radios won’t be active when the iPhone 5 first comes out. They will definitely get the GSM/HSPA+ portion up pretty quickly though. It won’t be cheap though.

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hi InformNow,

      My colleague Kevin Tofel recently did an in-depth review of Straight Talk:

      Basically he says it’s not for everybody, but if it fits with the way you use voice and data you can save a lot of money.

      Straight Talk won’t sell you the iPhone. You either have to bring an unlocked version from AT&T, buy a full-price phone or somehow unlock an AT&T version yourself

      • InformNow

        Hi Kevin, thanks for the info. Read the article to the link you provided. Got a question, don’t know if you have an opinion on. If Straight Talk uses T-Mobile or ATT’s service, how will the phone know? Is it because you buy an unlocked GSM ATT version iPhone that Straight Talk’s sim keeps it on ATT service or if you buy unlock Google Android whatever from T-Mobile and go to Straight Talk, that that SIM keeps it on t-Mobile?

        Right now I have a 10 year old T-Mobile phone on T-Mo and have lousy GSM reception at my house, not general around town, probably thanks to old tech. But a friend with an ATT GSM iPhone 4 or 4s not sure which one, but had good to great service in my house! Wouldn’t want to go to Straight Talk, buy full price iPhone and be put on T-Mobile’s SIM and may or may not have to deal with the poor connection when it comes to where my house is. Literally, I can go a few houses down and start getting better reception with my 10 year old tech on T-Mo. Just not my house. I have to forward my calls to home land line, it’s aggravating, so I would hate to be in same situation if I go to Straight Talk with self purchased iPhone but be given a T-Mobile sim and possibly stuck with poor coverage at my house all over again.

        What do you think? Go to Straight Talk and get ATT sim and coverage at my house? Thanks Kevin.

      • Kevin Fitchard

        Hey InformNow, you actually have more options than you think. Which network you connect to is determined by which SIM card ST gives you. So if you were to buy an unlocked iPhone (make sure to the AT&T/Canada version), you can put either SIM card into it. ST is no contract service so if T-Mo doesn’t work for you, you can switch over to the AT&T SIM.

        Given that T-Mo won’t have full support for HSPA+ on the iPhone until next year, you might want to either wait until T-Mo has HSPA+ support for your city (right now its Seattle, Vegas and NYC — they’ll announce more soon) or go with AT&T for a few months and switch over to T-Mo when the network is ready. I believe its the same price for either so if you’re happy with one network you might as well keep up.

        One word of caution. Don’t expect ST to give you access to either AT&T or T-Mo’s LTE networks. Except for Sprint, the carriers are making LTE off limits to MVNOs — at least for now.

  5. TMDisappointed !

    I’m a 14 year customer of T-Mobile. Omnipoint, VoiceStream, then T-Mobile.


    TM, the original GSM carrier, is so late to the party it’s not even funny.

    Attention Belleview WA., GET THE SYSTEM WORKING and GET the Iphone 5….

    Thank you ..

    Annoyed TM customer !!

  6. oh and all these podunk little carriers even up in alaska are signing deals to get the iphone but apply and tmobile can’t come to an agreement to open up the AWS frequence in their phones? yet the phones have CDMA and GSM built into them?
    what a joke

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Well, Apple didn’t have to build a special variant or add special band support to sell the iPhone through those podunk carriers. Their CDMA networks align perfectly with Verizon’s. For Apple it was easy money.

  7. so apple will make multiple iphone models to support the fractured LTE radio bands (one for verizon one for ATT one for everyone else) but they cant manage that “huge” technological feat of applying UMTS/HSPA on AWS 1700 mhz? please.

    the guy who wrote this article should do a little research the radio in the iPhone for is based on the qualcomm gobi 3000 chipset, which amazingly supports the AWS band so its not some huge technical deal to make it work but rather APPLE choosing to deliberately not include it. T-Mobile in Europe offers the phone but mysterious its like some act of God to try and get it here in the USA.

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Uh huh. Here’s my research: Pretty much all chipset modems support the AWS band these days along with every other frequency under the sun. The chipset isn’t the problem. It’s the antennas and the other radio components. Each new band adds expense, uses up space and generally impacts the performance for the phone for the poorer.

      But Apple did make a T-Mobile supported phone this time around. It just made the phone for where T-Mo’s networks are going to be next year not where the are now. Apple simply wasn’t going to make a special version of the iPhone (even though it’s now cool with variants) if T-Mo doesn’t even have an LTE network today.

  8. Kevin….

    Do you foresee Apple doing in the iPhone 5 what happened with the multi-model iPhone 4 ? Will, say by early next year, ALL three versions of the iPhone 5 be consolidated into ONE device because they got the LTE frequency issue solved?

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hi Winski,

      I don’t think that’s going to happen again. There are just way too many global bands for LTE. Even getting Verizon and AT&T’s frequencies on the SAME 700 MHz band is difficult. Remember, the CDMA iPhone 4 was launched in between generations so Apple had to make a special version anyway. That isn’t the case here. Maybe it will find some one-size fits all solution in the future, but I doubt it. It still has plenty more bands to support and it hasn’t even touched TD-LTE yet. I think it’s committed to variants for good.

  9. Very disappointed to hear that we now need to wait until next year just to get the phone. Obviously Apple’s marketing department were not thinking at all when it came down to laughing the iPhone5. Introducing it to those networks where it was not available, would be the most profitable for the company.

  10. I’m more inclined to purchase a Verizon/Sprint version since it can be used with more carriers outside of the U.S. One question though is whether Verizon version can be used on AT&T/T-Mobile network once unlocked. I know they use different LTE bands, but how about on 3G?

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hi Ik, The CDMA phone does have AT&T’s 3G bands, but the CDMA global phone and the AT&T variant are exclusive of one another when it comes to LTE freqs. Neither will support the other’s 700 MHz spectrum. The CDMA phone also doesn’t have AWS support so that means no support for T-Mobile. As for just 3G, the Verizon phone should work over the new HSPA+ network going up on PCS, but it will never access its LTE network.

  11. Jacob Guo

    Negri Electronic have the Iphone 5 unlock for pre-order. The prices are a bit higher than what Apple usually sell them for but in the end the savings is worth it. They have the 16GB for $759.50, 32GB for $869.50 and 64GB for 979.50. I hate contracts because it looks like money they loan you with all the interest doubling what they loan you. I paid $540 for my unlock Samsung Galaxy SII and put it on Simple Mobile $40 a month that includes everything, even international texting for free. And recently I upgraded to the $50 a month of 4G speed with monthly $5 given back for international calls. I may just go for the 64GB Iphone from Apple, which may about $865 directly unlock from Apple.

    • Steven Quan

      Since when is saving money out of style? You can go to one of the other networks and you’ll either pay through the nose for data plans with Verizon and ATT, or you’ll suffer from terrible customer service from Sprint. Legacy users of T-Mobile are still using their $5/mo unlimited data plans. Let’s see you go to any of the big 3 networks and get unlimited data on your smartphone for $5/mo. Sprint does have free unlimited data for the cell phone users on some plans, but it does not apply to smartphones.

  12. Rudy Concepcion

    T-Mobile gets screwed over by Apple, once again (who would’ve guessed?). I’m so sick of hearing about how T-Mobile and Apple can’t come to an agreement over getting the iPhone. I’m particularly disgusted with Apple for not offering T-Mobile the iPhone 5 even though we know the networks will be compatible at a future point. Maybe I need to calm down and be patient. Or maybe I need to launch my cell phone into the sun and never worry about it again. I’ll never give Apple any of my business so long as they keep leaving T-Mobile out of the picture.

    • Steven Quan

      Verizon, ATT, and Sprint all pay heavy subsidies to have the iPhone 5 on their networks. It means they pay for each phone, in it’s entirety ($600, $800, whatever it is), swallow that cost, and sell it to you, the consumer at a low price. Each network eats it big time every time someone buys an iPhone which is why their profit margins take a huge nosedive each time a new iPhone comes out.

      Eventually, they do make it up on the back end because after 2 years, the expensive data and voice plans they charge people make up for the cost up front. T-Mobile is balking at the up front cost of the iPhone. Apple isn’t treating T-Mobile any differently from the other carriers. Apple wants T-Mobile to swallow the cost of iPhone up front, whole, and they don’t want to do it. It is not congruous with T-Mobile’s pricing strategy which is to offer lower monthly Plans and services than the rest of the industry.

  13. With the previous CEO out and the ABSOLUTELY IDIOTIC CMO finally BLOWED-UP, maybe, just maybe T-Mumble is finally in position to be a ‘carrier’….

    This program of playing to the already purchased and un-locked iPhones could pay off, BUT you better watch them closely.. They have an uncanny nack of F#*KING these kinds of simple things up beyond belief….

    • Steven Quan

      It’s funny because there are currently 1 million iPhone users on the T-Mobile network as I write this. People talk about T-Mobile ‘finally’ being in position to be an iPhone carrier when they already are. They just don’t ‘officially’ carry the iPhone, but older iPhones will work on the service. They just operate at slower data speeds. The new iPhone 5 will operate at the faster speeds. If I were TMo I wouldn’t bother with the subsidies and just sell the phone without a contract on the website.

      • Leroy Yazamashi

        I have an iPhone 4 unlocked on Tmobile and it uses Edge network for data. How has tmobile been able to support iphone users without 3G support? Tmobile sucks hand down. ATT&T should be happy they didn’t buy tmobiles shitty network.

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Well, you probably want to buy an unlocked version unless you want to use AT&T for a year, cancel your contract, pay the ETF, get it unlocked and THEN bring it to T-Mobile. An unlocked version won’t be cheap though.