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Carrier winners, losers from latest iPhone launch

As has become a yearly occurrence, Apple today unveiled its latest iPhone iterations, though this time it changed up the plan a bit by announcing two separate models: the “entry-level” iPhone 5C and updated iPhone 5S.

For wireless carriers, the biggest issue with these yearly iPhone launches is in bracing for the expected crowds, meaning having more sales associates on the floor for the launch date (Sept. 20), as well as bracing financially for the expected subsidy hit that comes with millions of customers looking to upgrade their devices.

While the physical specifications of the new devices are what will be of interest to consumers, for wireless carriers the most important specification, besides price, is the spectrum band support from the various “models” of the iPhone 5S and 5C. Across the five various models, Apple has embedded support for just about every legacy 2G and 3G network around the world, as well as 17 various LTE bands. That LTE support is expected to be most critical as carriers looking to launch services are likely to want to have access to one of the hottest consumer electronic devices.

While the iPhone was initially limited to AT&T Mobility, which also allowed Apple to provide international models thanks to similar technologies, Apple subsequently expanding technology support as well as more spectrum bands. This has allowed the device manufacturer to offer iPhones across virtually every operator around the world, save for a handful.

Domestically, the launch of the iPhone for T-Mobile US earlier this year completed its roll out across the nation’s four largest operators, a move enabled by the embedded support for LTE in the 1.7/2.1 GHz band used by the carrier. The carrier was quick to note today that it will begin taking pre-orders on the 5C model Sept. 13, with both devices launching from the carrier on Sept. 20. Pricing through its unique Simple Choice plans has not yet been released by the carrier.

One carrier set to reap the benefits of increased device compatibility is China Mobile, which is expected to announce the addition of the device to its portfolio this week. Unlike its rivals that rely on more standardized 3G technologies, China Mobile uses the Chinese developed TD-SCDMA standard for 3G services. That technology has so far not been supported by Apple devices, something that the initial specifications for the latest devices seems to continue. However, Apple has added support for a trio of TD-LTE frequency bands, which is a technology China Mobile is deploying for its “4G” service. China Mobile is looking to use 2.3 GHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum – also known as Band Class 40/38 – for its TD-LTE network, both of which are supported by one of the iPhone models.

Another carrier set to benefit is Japan’s NTT DoCoMo, which will finally begin offering Apple’s iconic device on Sept. 20. Japan’s largest carrier has to this point not offered an iPhone model, while its smaller rivals Softbank and KDDI have offered the device for years. DoCoMo had initially turned down carrying the device, instead relying on smartphones powered by Google’s Android operating system to great success.

A select few carriers have to this point been unable or unwilling to offer the iPhone either due to compatibility limitations or simply choosing not to get involved in the heavy device subsidies required to meet the industry’s price point for the devices.

One of those operators that has so far not offered an iPhone is U.S. Cellular, initially citing the financial burden to carrying the device. That tone has since changed, no doubt due to customer acquisition challenges, and the carrier has set it plans to offer Apple products later this year.

Another consideration for U.S. Cellular has been the lack of device support for its unique LTE deployment plans. While the carrier could have offered an iPhone running across its CDMA-based 3G network, something a number of regional carriers have decided to do, it appears to be more interested in waiting until its LTE network is more robust. U.S. Cellular’s current LTE deployment is running across its 850 MHz and lower 700 MHz spectrum holdings. The 850 MHz spectrum has been supported by previous iPhone models, though the lower 700 MHz spectrum, and more specifically Band Class 12, has so far and continues to not be embedded in the Apple product line.

One of the carriers that looks to have been left out of the conversation all together is Sprint and its plans to deploy TD-LTE services across Clearwire’s 2.5 GHz spectrum band, also known as Band Class 41. Sprint does offer the iPhone for its LTE service running across its 1.9 GHz spectrum band (Band Class 25), but the specifications for the latest iPhones does not include Band Class 41. Clearwire last year garnered chipset support for that band from Qualcomm, with Sprint recently rolling out devices that support both Band Class 25 and 41, as well as 800 MHz support. Sprint has said it plans to begin blending in TD-LTE technology into its network deployments beginning next year.

LTE spectrum “band classes” supported by the various iPhone 5C/5S models:

FDD-LTE
1: 1920-1980/2110-2170 MHz
2: 1850-1910/1930-1990 MHz
3: 1710-1785/1805-1880 MHz
4: 1710-1755/2110-2155 MHz
5: 824-849/869-894 MHz
7: 2500-2570/2620-2690 MHz
8: 880-915/925-960 MHz
13: 777-787/746-756 MHz
17: 704-716/734-746 MHz
18: 815-830/860-875 MHz
19: 830-845/875-890 MHz
20: 832-862/791-821 MHz
25: 1850-1915/1930-1995 MHz
26: 859-894/814-849 MHz

TD-LTE
38: 2570-2620 MHz
39: 1880-1920 MHz
40: 2300-2400 MHz

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