New iPhone 5 gives T-Mobile’s MVNOs a network boost, but still no LTE

T-Mobile CEO John Legere kicking off the iPhone and T-Mobile's Un-carrier strategy last year

Apple’s newly retooled iPhone 5 makes it easier not just for T-Mobile to deliver 3G service to the Apple aficionados among its customers, but also for its mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) partners.

T-Mobile MVNO Solavei said on Wednesday it will fully support all of the HSPA+ radios in the new version of the iPhone 5. That means anywhere T-Mobile offers 3G service, Solavei will too. Previously all iPhones’ 3G capabilities were restricted to areas where T-Mobile had completed its ongoing network overhaul, which to date is about 50 cities. Solavei — which has adopted a multi-level marketing approach (think Amway) to distributing its service — is selling the unlocked iPhone 5 directly to customers for the steep price of $700 through its retail partner GSMNation. But unlocked versions of the device will work just fine with Solavei’s SIM cards.

Solavei, however, won’t get access to T-Mo’s latest and greatest 4G network though. The MVNO confirmed that none of its customers will be able to tap T-Mobile’s LTE network, no matter what phone they own. T-Mobile has only launched LTE in seven cities, and it appears to be keeping its new 4G service for itself for the time being. I would expect that change eventually though. Sprint, for instance, is already opening its new LTE network to its numerous MVNO partners.

T-Mobile’s 3G network, though, is nothing to scoff at. T-Mo the only U.S. carrier to offer dual-carrier HSPA+, which is now accessible by the iPhone 5 and many other devices supporting its Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) band. T-Mobile also has several other MVNO partners, such as Tracfone’s Straight Talk Wireless, that can theoretically support the iPhone 5. Solavei is the only one we know of that is selling a nano-SIM card that fits into to device, but many consumers are getting around that problem by cutting larger SIM cards down to size.

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