It is unlikely that the iPhone 5 will sport LTE 4G support in the UK, even in areas where 4G does become available, despite reports suggesting otherwise.
[Update: EE (fomerly known as Everything Everywhere) will offer the iPhone 5 on their 4G network avaiable in some parts of the country. See:Orange and T-Mobile customers need new contract with EE to get 4G LTE on iPhone 5]
Wall Street Journal sources had claimed that the new iPhone would offer “around the world” 4G LTE, although it noted that the functionality would not be available on every carrier.
See also: Live Feed: Apple iPhone 5 launch event
However, there are up to 41 reasons why the iPhone 5 is unlikely to support 4G in the UK, be it the LTE 4G soon to be on offer from Everything Everywhere, or the 4G that will come next year (potentially) from the other UK operators.
According to IDC analyst John Byrne there are 36 LTE bands around the world (other reports suggest 41), compared with 22 bands for 3G technology.
3G phones only needed one radio to cover all few bands of radio spectrum. LTE covers such a wide range of bands that right now it is impossible to have one radio access them all.
In order to support LTE 4G on a global scale, Apple’s iPhone would a chip designed to support all of the different bands around the world. Qualcomm senior vice president Bill Davidson told WSJ: “It will be impractical to have all of the bands.”
Qualcomm already has a “programmable” radio, but it can’t be tuned in to specific bands in specific countries on the fly, notes Gizmodo.
Different phones for different folks?
One solution could be to add different radios to the iPhones destined for different countries, in order for them to support those forms of LTE 4G, however, there will be roaming problems when users travel to different countries.
Is it likely that Apple would go to these lengths? Probably not: IDC data shows that only the US, South Korea and Japan have significant numbers of LTE customers.
Some reports note that Samsung’s latest smartphones operate on a variety of LTE 4G networks. However, according to IDC, these Android phones are currently being sold in 11 countries including the US, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Germany.
So expect Apple’s iPhone 4G to support a limited number of LTE carriers that use a select few bands, in countries where LTE 4G is already established.
What about Everything Everywhere’s 4G?
But one form of LTE 4G could be coming to the UK soon. Ofcom is allowing Everything Everywhere (aka T-Mobile and Orange) to use some of its existing spectrum to provide a 4G network from 11 September. Everything Everywhere (EE) is hosting an event at the Science Museum on that day. It is likely to reveal its plans for 4G in the UK.
There had been some speculation that EE would be able to offer the iPhone 5 with 4G. However, the fact that the event is scheduled for the day before Apple’s iPhone 5 launch event has quashed rumours that EE could make an iPhone 4G related announcement.
Even with Ofcom allowing EE to offer 4G from 11 September, it is unlikely that EE would have a 4G network up and running before the end of the year, and the LTE 4G network it does offer is likely to be limited to a few towns and cities.
Given the limitations of EE’s LTE 4G, and the fact that it’s not likely to arrive here in any time soon, it is unlikely that Apple would bother to roll out an iPhone 5 with an LTE chip that supports Everything Everywhere’s 4G 1800MHz LTE band.
With the iPhone 5 out of the picture as a launch partner for EE’s 4G, could Nokia be in the running? The Financial Times has reported that Nokia is in talks with Everything Everywhere to make the network the exclusive launch partner for the new Lumia phones it launched in New York last week.
[UPDATE: At the the launch of EE's 4G, in traditional Apple style, CEO Olaf Swantee said with a knowing and suggestive look: "Oh and one more thing, we will be announcing more devices very shortly."]
[UPDATE: EE has confirmed that it will be offering the iPhone 5 on its 4G network. More information here: Orange and T-Mobile customers need new contract with EE to get 4G LTE on iPhone 5]
So will the UK be stuck with 3G iPhones?
In the UK, the iPhone 5 is likely to fall back to HSPA+ rather than support LTE 4G, so while we won’t get 4G speeds, we should at least get slightly better than 3G. That’s if you even get 3G where you are.
Given the situation, it is unlikely that Apple will make the mistake of marketing the iPhone as offering 4G, at least not anywhere outside of the US. The New iPad was described by Apple as supporting 4G LTE when it launched earlier this year, but it was only compatible with networks in the US and Canada. Apple was sued in Australia for advertising the new iPad as being 4G when it wasn’t compatible with their LTE network. A UK watchdog was also investigating.
By the way, LTE 4G isn’t actually 4G. The LTE stands for Long Term Evolution and although marketed as 4G, it doesn’t meet the technical requirements the 3GPP consortium has adopted for its new standard generation.