An iPhone with “LTE-Advanced?” If you’re in the US, don’t get too excited

iPhone 5 LTE

The Korea Times is quoting anonymous SK Telecom executives saying that Apple is in the middle of negotiations about using an LTE-Advanced technology called carrier aggregation in the next version of the iPhone. Doing so would enable potential download speeds of 150 mbps on SK’s network, which is twice as fast as the what the iPhone 5 supports on its LTE network today.

Whether or not this deal actually comes to fruition, keep in mind that there’s a reason this report is originating in Korea: there’s very little chance this capability would be available to most Apple customers in the U.S. when the supposed device becomes available.

Qualcomm, which is Apple’s supplier, already makes an next-generation LTE chip for Apple’s rival Samsung, and it’s in a version of the Galaxy S 4 optimized for Korea. With Apple on track for its yearly iPhone release some time this fall, it is very likely Apple will get similarly updated chip, which includes the potential for much faster speeds.

But while such a device could work in South Korea with SK Telecom, for example, it wouldn’t work anywhere else — at least not yet.

Carrier aggregation bonds two mobile transmissions together, allowing an operator to create a kind of super-connection. SK Telecom, however, is the only global operator that currently supports the LTE upgrade, though it’s on the roadmap of most of the U.S. operators. To make full use of carrier aggregation, U.S. operators first need to build their second LTE networks, which they’ve only just begun to do. As my colleague Kevin Fitchard has written before, it’s misleading to call carrier aggregation LTE-Advanced, since it’s only the first of many steps necessary to achieve a full LTE-A network.

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