Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

England 5 – 1 USA

This isn’t a prediction for a tomorrow’s World Cup game but about the number of mobile networks in the UK and US that will be offering the iPhone 4 when it launches in a couple of weeks.
In the UK, the iPhone originally launched exclusively on O2, an arrangement that was in place for a couple of years. After the iPhone 3GS was released, that deal ended, and the iPhone was made available on Vodafone and Orange, as well as Tesco Mobile, an MVNO which uses O2’s network and who my current package is with.
With the iPhone 4, the 2 remaining networks, T-Mobile and 3, have also announced that they will offer it, meaning all five networks (with their own infrastructure) will carry it, although in the UK Orange and T-Mobile now have the same parent company and plan to share infrastructure in future. None have announced pricing for the iPhone 4 but hopefully there will be some healthy competition, with a wide range of packages.
This, unfortunately, is not the same situation in the US. AT&T have had an exclusivity deal with Apple since launch and so none of the iPhone models have been available on any other network. Hence the uproar about the quality of AT&T’s network when compared to Verizon Wireless (it’s big competitor) and the changes in its pricing which brings the end of unlimited mobile data.
Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple in the US as with the UK. All of the UK networks use the GSM and UMTS mobile systems, which is what all of the various iPhone models use. AT&T uses this, but Verizon Wireless doesn’t – it uses CDMA and EV-DO, which isn’t compatible with GSM/UMTS. For an iPhone to work on Verizon, Apple would either have to add CDMA/EV-DO support into the handset, probably making it bigger, or make a separate CDMA model. It seems they’re unwilling to do either.
The only other big GSM/UMTS network in the US is T-Mobile, however, T-Mobile’s UMTS network runs on the 1700 and 2100 MHz frequencies. This is different to most other UMTS networks worldwide and the iPhone does not support the 1700 MHz band. So again, Apple would need to modify the iPhone to work with it.
I may come across as trying to defend Apple here and I’m not – the iPhone really should be made available to more networks in the US. It’s a shame that one of the world’s most popular smartphones is tied down to one carrier – especially as that’s not the case in other countries, like the UK. While I know only a little about how GSM and UMTS work (Slotted ALOHA, anyone?), adding support for the 1700MHz band to work with T-Mobile USA surely can’t be a big task.
There is some good news on the horizon, as it looks like most mobile networks. including Verizon, will standardise on LTE in future. This is still some way off but we may finally have a truly global system for mobile phones that works on every carrier, and whatever iPhone is around then may well be available on most networks. Of course, that’s assuming they don’t just stick with another long exclusivity agreement with AT&T.

One Comment

  1. Anyone else feel a little slighted with a 1-1 tie after all that buildup?