iPhone 5 release: Carriers march to 4G/LTE services war

August 22, 2012 9:46 AM EDT

Get ready for the race to claim the title of ‘Best 4G carrier’ in nations worldwide as telcos rush to deliver tempting 4G LTE services in time for the September/October introduction of the Apple [AAPL] iPhone 5

[ABOVE: Fake Apple parody ad. Status: Slightly amusing. Slogan: "The iPhone 5: picture your life. Better.]

Here comes the iPhone 5

Look around and you can’t miss the signs. Carriers -- most recently Germany’s Mobilcom Debitel -- are beginning to let slip that the new iPhone is on the way: "In September, it's finally time for a new generation of smartphone to go on sale," the German carrier said.

Both Verizon and AT&T are imposing vacation blocks in the last couple of weeks of September in preparation for the rush to the shops of the millions of smartphone buyers who will pick up an iPhone 5.

From TechCrunch: “A trusted Verizon employee has just confirmed to TechCrunch that the carrier is having an all-staff vacation blackout from the dates of Friday, September 21 to the following Friday, September 30. You know what that means, right?” 

Just last week BGR reported a "trusted AT&T" source who confirmed that carrier intends launching the iPhone 5 in the third or fourth week in September. That’s completely in  line with the current September 12 introduction, September 21 launch claims we’ve been hearing for weeks.

There’s also hints to expect a big mobile broadband battle between 4G service providers, set to begin on the launch of the new iPhone.

New iPhone means battle of mobile broadband

This means iPhone buyers in the US can expect to see carriers introduce a range of competitive deals designed to help service providers hook as many customers as possible to their faster mobile broadband services. Significant carrier moves that suggest this include:

  • T-Mobile USA will begin offering its Unlimited Nationwide 4G data plan from September 5. This plan features no data caps or speed limits and will cost $20 per month when bolted onto a value voice and text plan, or $30 per month when added to a classic plan.
  • Also yesterday in the US, MetroPCS introduced its own 4G LTE service plan featuring unlimited talk, text and 4G LTE data for only $55 per month for a single line. 
  • The last month has also seen a deal of activity from AT&T and Verizon who have been opening up 4G services in new areas across the USA. This led Verizon Wireless last week to announce that its LTE services are now available to three quarters of the US population.  (This may be a moot point at this time as a Piper Jaffray survey released today claims 47 percent of US consumers don’t feel they need 4G LTE).
  • In the UK, Everything Everywhere -- a merged brand comprising Orange and T-Mobile -- this week won approval from UK regulators to begin using its existing 1,800MHz spectrum for LTE and WiMAX service provision beginning September 11. That’s the day before Apple’s expected to introduce its iPhone...

Does Apple 'get' international?

Everything Everywhere's move is potentially good news for UK customers who’ve been unable to benefit from 4G/LTE speeds as yet, but isn’t necessarily going to be good for iPhone users as we still don’t know if Apple’s devices will support LTE over Everything Everywhere’s adopted spectrum. It’s also good news for customers of the UK’s Three network, which has purchased some of Everything Everywhere’s spectrum for use with its own 4G services.

The current 4G iPad only supports 700MHz and 2,100MHz LTE/4G frequencies. These aren’t used in many places outside of the US. However, previous reports from Korean carriers suggested Apple is discussing 4G support for 800MHz and 1,800MHz bands in conversation with those carriers.

The significance of all this activity is clear: 4G may still have some hurdles to cross before it becomes the de facto mobile broadband standard you can’t live without (international standardization around deployed wavelengths is just one obstacle it faces), but it’s getting there. 

Apple dipped its toes in the 4G water when it launched its iPad, but it is to be hoped that the new iPhone will see a more significant excursion into mobile broadband. Apple’s poor execution and explanation of the limited 4G support bundled inside its tablet led it to cough up millions in compensation. It is to be hoped that this mistake is not repeated, this time around.

However, as we wait for the slimmer, faster, LTE-enabled 4-inch iPhone next month, the signs are that the next 12 months won’t just be about the challenge of delivering the best phone, but also that of delivering the best available 4G support.

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