A T-Mobile iPhone next week? Unlikely. T-Mo isn’t ready

A Merrill Lynch analyst is hearing buzz that Apple(s aapl) 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 [email protected]

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.