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The Apple iPhone 5 … with LTE! But Which Bands?


As you all probably know by now, the Apple iPhone 5 was introduced on September 12th. Many reviewers and sites have already commented extensively on the features of the new OS, the new large display, the thinness, etc.

However, there has been little discussion of the cellular bands and frequencies supported in the iPhone 5.

So, lets spend some time on this topic.

Three iPhone 5 Models

As can be seen from the Apple iPhone 5 specifications, there are three models of the phone. Here are the cellular specifications under Cellular and Wireless for these models:

GSM model A1428

  • UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz)
  • GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
  • LTE (Bands 4 and 17)

CDMA model A1429

  • CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1900, 2100 MHz)
  • UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz)
  • GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
  • LTE (Bands 1, 3, 5, 13 and 25)

GSM model A1429

  • UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz)
  • GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
  • LTE (Bands 1, 3 and 5)

Not surprisingly, the frequency bands supported for 2G and 3G are quite standardthis is not any different from Apples earlier products, or from products from other manufacturers.

However, the number of LTE bands supported in the iPhone 5 has increased from the iPadthis is definitely good news for customers!

Yet, there are some confusing decisions by Apple in regard to the LTE bands that were included, and using these phones in LTE mode in some non-US countries and Carriers may be difficult or impossible.

Model Summary

Let's summarize the cellular specifications of the three iPhone 5 models:

iPhone 5 ModelUMTS / HSPA/ HSPA+/ DC-HSDPAGSM / EDGECDMA EV-DO Rev. A & Rev. BLTE BandCarrier
GSM model A1428 850, 900, 1900, 2100 850, 900, 1800, 1900 4, 17 AT&T (US), Bell, Rogers, Telus (Canada)
CDMA model A1429 850, 900, 1900, 2100 850, 900, 1800, 1900 800, 1900, 2100 1, 3, 5, 13, 25 Verizon (US), Sprint (US), KDDI (Japan)
GSM model A1429 850, 900, 1900, 2100 850, 900, 1800, 1900 1, 3, 5 Various International Carriers

Relevant Bands

A table at the end of this post shows the LTE bands of interest for the rest of this discussion (for a full list, see my earlier posts here and here).

Good World-wide 2G and 3G Support

The 3G UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA and 2G GSM/EDGE spectrum and protocol support is identical in all three models. These frequencies are supported by Carriers in most countries, so these three iPhone models should operate quite well in 2G and 3G mode everywhere.

The CDMA model A1429 also includes 2G/3G GSM protocols and frequenciesboth Verizon and Sprint provide World-Phone capability in many of their handsets. So, no surprise here.

Different LTE Bands in the Two GSM Models

The two GSM models A1428 and A1429 support different LTE bands. The AT&T model A1428 supports LTE in Bands 4 and 17, and the International model A1429 supports LTE in Bands 1, 3 and 5.

I am a bit surprised that LTE support in Bands 1, 3 and 5 was not provided in the GSM model A1428, since that would have eliminated the need for the GSM model A1429.

This limits the countries where these two models can be deployed as LTE phones the AT&T model A1428 can operate in LTE mode in Canada and some South American countries, but it cannot use LTE in Europe or Asia (where Band 4 is not yet deployed, and Band 17 is not possible). So, AT&T may not be able to offer LTE roaming to countries in Europe.

Why LTE in Band 1?

Most European Carriers have deployed 3G fairly extensively in Band 1, so this is not currently available for LTE, and may not be available for quite a while. This future use thinking by Apple seems unusual, particularly given the more likely (and sooner) deployments by Verizon in Band 4 (the FCC has approved their acquisition of the SpectrumCO AWS licenses) and Sprint in Band 26 (the ITU and FCC have approved the re-farmed iDEN spectrum for LTE and 1X Advanced). These are not supported in the CDMA model A1429.

Band 3 Advantage for some Carriers

In some European countries, only one or two carriers have Band 3 DCS licenses at 1800MHzthey get an advantage. They can provide the iPhone 5 to their customer their competition cannot.

There is a clear example of this issue in the UK. Vodafone and O2 do not have any DCS 1800MHz spectrum, since almost all the 1800MHz spectrum in the UK is owned by EverythingEverywhere. Thus Vodafone and O2 cannot offer the iPhone 5 to their customers as a 4G LTE handset.

Band 5 For Asian Carriers

Providing LTE support in Band 5 in the CDMA model A1429 was not strictly necessarythe US Carriers are not likely to free that old Cellular spectrum use with ANSI-2000 CDMA for quite a while. AT&T could free that spectrum from their 2G GSM use soon perhaps, but this band is not included in the GSM model A1428 for use with LTE.

However, there are some Asian Carriers who could deploy LTE in Band 5. In Japan, KDDI also offers CDMA service, so the inclusion of Band 5 in the CDMA model A1429 may be for that Carrier.

Missing LTE Bands in iPhone 5

Band 2

What about Band 2 PCS at 1900MHz (blocks A through F)? This is not supported in any of the iPhone 5 models for LTE. AT&T has started harvesting spectrum in the PCS bands, presumably for LTE, but none of the three iPhone 5 models support LTE in Band 2.

Since it is likely that this band will be cleared of 2G GSM by AT&T in major cities within the next two to three years, and certainly by January 1, 2017 in their entire footprint (as announced by AT&T), it would have seemed a prime candidate for LTE in any new handset design. Sprint is likely to deploy LTE in unused PCS bands in some markets, and Verizon is also likely to free up EV-DO usage in their PCS bands in a few years after the 2G GSM shutdown.

Band 26

The Sprint iDEN Band 26 at 800MHz is not supported in any of the iPhone 5 models. This was a recent entry to the band plans for LTE, and probably did not get approved in time for this new design (or its chipset).

Of course, Sprint has not yet deployed LTE in Band 26, but they will do so soon, since the 800MHz in Band 26 is an excellent low-frequency competitor to the 700MHz bands deployed by Verizon, AT&T and others.

Band 41

The Clearwire planned deployment of LTE in Band 41 at 2.5GHz is not supported in any of the iPhone 5 models, although this may be moot since Clearwire has not yet deployed any LTE in that spectrum.

Furthermore, Clearwire is planning to deploy TDD LTE in that band. Although QUALCOMM and Clearwire have announced an agreement to support TDD LTE, this probably has not yet been added to current-generation LTE chipsets for handsets.

Band 12

The numerous small US Carriers who bought much of the 700MHz Lower A/B/C spectrum remain shut out from offering the iPhone 5 as an LTE handsetthis Band 12 is not available in any of these models.

Since AT&T was successful in getting Band 17 (a subset of Band 12) separately approved by the ITU and the FCC, the lack of 700MHz interoperability makes it tough for small carriers to get sufficient attention from handset manufacturers.

A Few Final Observations

There are still two versions of the iPhone 5 for the US marketone for use on AT&T and one for use on Verizon/Sprint.

Thus, in the US, it is still not possible for a Verizon or Sprint customer to roam on AT&T, or for an AT&T customer to roam on Verizon or Sprint, regardless of whether they want to roam in LTE mode or 2G/3G modes (in the case of an AT&T customer wanting to roam on Verizon or Sprint).

And, if you want to change Carriers from AT&T to Verizon or Sprint, or vice-versa, you still need to change out the iPhone 5 device due to the separate LTE bands.

Maybe Apple should consider offering a trade-in plan on the iPhone 5 to allow moving from one Carrier to another! But given handset subsidy economics, this is very unlikely.

Ultimately, this lack of roaming between the major US Carriers is a disservice to consumers.

By the way, adding support for LTE in Bands 4 and 17 in the CDMA model A1429 would have made this roaming possible and potentially even simplified the number of Apple iPhone 5 models down to one! Yes, the CDMA and EV-DO support in the CDMA model A1429 would not have been used by AT&T customers, but the slight added cost for this would have have been accepted as a reasonable trade-off, if it enabled LTE roaming within the US.

For now, the Grand Unification of LTE as a common cellular protocol for handsets for all Carriers has yet to occur in the USlet alone the rest of the world. In my opinion, this may not happen till handset manufacturers make LTE-only cellular phones in the future.

Maybe the Apple iPhone 6 or iPhone 7 will get it right! Isnt waiting for the next Apple product a popular nationalperhaps globalpastime for everybody? :)

What About M2M and LTE?

What has been released with multiple LTE band support in the iPhone 5 is an expensive smartphone for the consumer market. Radio modules with multiple bands for LTE are still a few years from production.

And, the radio module costs would be too high for any large-scale M2M application deployment. Ultimately this will change, but not for the next few years.

In my opinion, using LTE radio modules for most M2M Applications is still a number of years away from being a good decision.

What are your LTE plans for M2M deployments? Id love to receive comments from people who are reading this post!

As always, although I dont specifically identify Trademarks in my posts, they are implied. For example, Apple, iPad, and iPhone are trademarks of Apple, Inc., registered in the US and other countries.

Relevant LTE Bands

The LTE bands of interest to the iPhone 5 discussion above (for a full list of all 35 bands, see my earlier posts here and here).

BandUp low (MHz)Up high (MHz)Down low (MHz)Down high (MHz)Known AsPrimarily Used by
1 1920 1980 2110 2170 IMT 2100 Some Asia, Europe, Japan
2 1850 1910 1930 1990 PCS US Carriers, Canada Some South America
3 1710 1785 1805 1880 DCS Some Europe, Asia, Australia
4 1710 1755 2110 2155 AWS AT&T, Verizon, Canada, Some South America
5 824 849 869 894 Cellular AT&T, Verizon, Some Asia
12 699 716 729 746 700 Lower A/B/C Small US Carriers
13 777 787 746 756 700 Upper C Verizon
17 704 716 734 746 700 Lower B/C AT&T
25 1850 1915 1930 1995 PCS G Sprint
26 814 849 859 894 iDEN Sprint
41 2496 2690 2496 2690 BRS

Clearwire / (Sprint)

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