T-Mobile in the Process of Converting its 4G Network to Support Apple's iPhone
Ever since the original iPhone shipped in 2007, T-Mobile has been a host to unlocked iPhones on its network. The one downside all along has been the fact that iPhone users on T-Mobile only get the much slower 2G GSM frequency speeds. The 3G networks that T-Mobile built haven’t been compatible with the iPhone because they work on non-standard AWS (Advanced Wireless Spectrum) frequencies rather than those used by AT&T in the US and most GSM-aligned carriers worldwide. The wireless carrier also bet against the industry by siding with WiMAX rather than 4G LTE as its future, a decision that was yet again, incompatible with the iPhone. Furthermore, T-Mobile’s smaller subscriber base was never large enough to attract attention from Apple to develop support for its non-standard 3G or WiMAX networks (attention that ended up shifting towards Verizon with the CDMA model that iPhone created). All of this has left the company striving to support unlocked iPhone users in an unofficial way as the company scrambles to make the network changes necessary to start negotiations with Apple.
The company’s original plan was to get the iPhone revolved around a proposed $39 billion acquisition by AT&T last year, which intended to reuse T-Mobile’s spectrum to rapidly build out 4G LTE in the U.S. while improving coverage for existing AT&T users in the short term. The government stopped this deal to keep T-Mobile’s cheaper plans available to consumers. T-Mobile ended up with $3 billion in cash and $1 billion worth of spectrum as a parting gift from the deal. Since then, T-Mobile has been working to build out new 4G technologies that are compatible with Apple’s iPhone. Chief technology officer, Neville Ray, said the company would be repurposing its existing 1900MHz 2G service with 4G HSPA+, in order to “provide customers with the ability to use a broader range of devices, including the iPhone, on T-Mobile’s 4G network.” Portions of its recently built HSPA+ service, built out in New York City, Seattle, and Las Vegas are already able to support Apple’s iPhone 4S (it should be noted that T-Mobile was advertising its HSPA+ networks as 4G, despite it not being LTE, although it’s just as fast in some cases). Furthermore, in a recent interview with Gigaom
, Ray stated that the existing iPhone 4S is already operating 70% faster on T-Mobile than it does on AT&T.
Ray also noted that T-Mobile is also building support for dual-carrier HSPA+, which can support 42 Mbps. The iPhone 4S can currently only handle HSPA+ up to 14.4 Mbps, but the new iPad arrived with support for dual-carrier networks alongside North American LTE, making it very likely that the next-generation iPhone will also support T-Mobile’s very fast dual-carrier 1900MHz HSPA+. Ray added that T-Mobile will “have a material footprint on HSPA+ at 1900 MHz by the end of the year,” and told the site that T-Mobile would begin aggressively courting unlocked iPhone users this holiday season.
It is expected that Apple will negotiate a carrier agreement once T-Mobile can offer broad support for iPhones on its network. T-Mobile iPhone users finally have something more concrete to look forward to.