Though there’s rampant speculation that the iPhone may be part of T-Mobile’s UNcarrier media event slated for later this morning, the iPhone may not immediately launch on the nation’s fourth largest carrier as it tries to revolutionize the wireless industry. Likely, the event will center around the recent unveiling of its new contract-free and subsidy-less phone plans in the U.S. market, a broader 4G LTE roll out schedule, and perhaps even updates about its merger with smaller regional carrier MetroPCS. The iPhone may still be part of T-Mobile’s dialogue as part of the announcement, but it may not immediately launch, according to Roger Cheng of CNET.
First Steps to Launch
To launch the iPhone, and in particular Apple’s latest iPhone 5, T-Mobile will have to demonstrate to a controlling Apple that it could deliver a great network experience to subscribers. Likely, what that entails would be a broader LTE network and roll out plans before that happens. Rival carrier Sprint had faced similar trials with Apple when it carried the iPhone 5 and the latest 4G LTE-enabled iPad with Retina Display and iPad mini, though it may have been a bit easier for Sprint to debut the iPhone 5 with a more limited network given that the carrier was an iPhone 4S launch partner.
Changes Needed to Accommodate an iPhone
Though AT&T’s iPhone 5 when unlocked and a factory unlocked version of the iPhone 5 from Apple will work on T-Mobile’s LTE and HSPA+ networks in select areas, the iPhone 5 would need to be re-tooled to accommodate T-Mobile’s nationwide 4G HSPA+ network. As T-Mobile operates its 3G/4G network on AWS spectrum that’s different from AT&T in many parts of the country, the current iPhone 5’s modem would only allow the smartphone to work with T-Mobile’s 2G EDGE network in much of the country. In select areas, the iPhone 5 will be able to operate on 3G, 4G, and LTE networks due to recent spectrum acquisition from AT&T, though those markets are few.
The AT&T version of the iPhone 5 would theoretically support T-Mobile’s LTE band.
If Apple does release an iPhone 5 for T-Mobile for immediate sales, it would have to create another hardware model to accommodate T-Mobile’s 3G/4G HSPA/HSPA+ network. This, though, may not be out of the question as Apple had done something similar for the iPhone 4’s launch on Verizon’s network in the past. That model launched mid-cycle and Apple created a separate iPhone CDMA hardware for Verizon.
Benefits for Waiting for a Fall Launch
An iPhone 5 will be expensive on T-Mobile’s network. Customers on the network, unlike those on AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon, would have to pay the full $649 starting price. On these other networks, customers only need a $200 minimum outlay. Waiting for new iPhones to come out this fall may be beneficial to T-Mobile’s customers as Apple is rumored to be delivering a new flagship iPhone 5S along with a cheaper iPhone that may retail as low as $329 unlocked and un-subsidized. Given T-Mobile’s ending subsidies for phones, this will make the iPhone more attractive to customers and may be a big win for both Apple and T-Mobile.