Can’t Wait For LTE With iPhone 5? Hold Your Horses

Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile network technology has arrived on the iPhone with the announcement of iPhone 5. Sure, you could say that Apple is late to the party since several Android and Windows Phone devices have had LTE support for a while, but when you really think about it, how many networks have rolled out LTE around the world and how many markets are being served by the super high speed connection that LTE brings? On top of that, can you use LTE when you’re traveling abroad? Indonesian iPhone 5 users may be out of luck regardless.

With iPhone 4 Apple had to split the CDMA and GSM versions due to the different hardware requirements and the late development of the CDMA version. This was sort of fixed with iPhone 4S as Apple had managed to build the phone to support both types of mobile networks inside the same hardware.

The fact that iPhone 4S units activated on GSM networks would not work on CDMA, this was more about telco politics than technical limitations. More specifically, US telco politics in which AT&T (GSM) and Verizon (CDMA) are vicious competitors, although as far as the hardware goes, this wasn’t much of an issue for Apple and most consumers around the world since CDMA is used only in a handful of markets, significant they may be.

LTE makes three
When it comes to iPhone 5 and LTE however, Apple has had to prepare three different hardware configurations to be released in different parts of the world, which means it now has six variants of the phone if you include the fact that iPhone 5 comes in black and white.

In the United States, Apple will revert to its iPhone 4 practice of releasing a GSM iPhone 5 and a CDMA iPhone 5. The GSM iPhone 5 carries the product ID of A1428. This model is compatible with the LTE networks using the AWS spectrum (band 4) and the 700b MHz spectrum (band 17). Works with AT&T in the US, Bell, Rogers, and Telus, as well as their respective sub brands, in Canada.

The CDMA iPhone 5 is the A1429. Sold through Verizon and Sprint in the US and KDDI in Japan. This has the widest support of LTE frequency bands covering bands 1, 3, 4, 13 and 25, sold through Verizon and Sprint in the US, KDDI in Japan.

The International model has also, seemingly confusingly, been designated A1429 despite being a GSM model. This runs on LTE bands 1, 3, and 5, compatible with Germany’s Deutsche Telekom, EE (Orange and T-Mobile) in the UK, Optus and Telstra in Australia, Softbank in Japan, SK Telecom and KT in South Korea, SmarTone in Hong Kong, and M! and SingTel in Singapore.

International LTE
Okay, so what about LTE in other markets that Apple has yet to specify? Unless the LTE networks in those countries are being or have been rolled out in those specific bands, consumers in those markets are out of luck.

Apple’s disclaimer on its LTE page says that “band support does not guarantee support on all LTE networks running on the same bands”. This means that even if your preferred mobile network runs LTE on the frequencies that the iPhone 5 supports, it may not be compatible. Without going into the specifics, and most people are unlikely to, this is a clusterfuck of enormous proportion.

Since LTE is a late comer in the field of wireless frequencies, governments and communications regulators have already assigned certain frequencies to other technologies. While GSM and 3G standards have also been in a similar boat, and still are, the technical barriers in allocating the frequencies for LTE made this a much bigger issue.

LTE in Indonesia
In Indonesia, the available frequency assigned for LTE is the 2.3GHz range, which had already been assigned to WiMax, a competing 4G standard that happens to be declining in global popularity.

There are still WiMax operators in the country which means the frequency cannot be released outright and it doesn’t look like the Indonesian government can or is even willing to force these companies to ditch WiMax the way the Australian government ordered Australian carrier Telstra to drop CDMA several years ago.

This means that even if Indonesian carriers activate LTE, many mobile devices, not just iPhone 5, will not be able to hook up to the network because existing models don’t support LTE on the 2.3GHz frequency.

However, there may yet be light at the end of the tunnel as AT&T wants to roll out LTE in that same frequency in the United States. While the specifics are quite technical, suffice to say that mobile vendors will have to conform to the most popular frequencies in order to have their devices functional.

In the mean time, if you’re looking to get an LTE mobile device for use in Indonesia, you can forget about downloading or streaming at 100 megabit speeds (or even half that) since you’re going to be stuck with 3G/HSDPA for quite a while, perhaps even after 2013. Even then, there’s very little chance that we’d see Indonesian 3G speeds reaching an average of 14.4 Mbps in the next 12-18 months when the average now is not even 3Mbps.

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