The anticipation is over: We know what's coming in the iPhone 4S and iOS 5, and what isn't, at least for the next several months. One of the more noticeable things missing is support for the number four U.S. mobile carrier, T-Mobile. It's clear why even this World Phone (it supports GSM and CDMA) won't blush T-Mo Magenta: Apple didn't include support for the carrier's 1700 Mhz 3G/4G bands.
The good news is that Sprint customers will soon get some long-awaited iLove, but there are really only three realistic ways T-Mobile customers will get the iPhone.
1. Unlocked or Jailbroken Devices. T-Mobile customers have been able to use the iPhone on their network since its introduction in 2007. In fact, according to recent figures, 3% of all T-Mo customers do just that, but have needed to jailbreak the phone to do so. While a jailbreak for the iPhone 4S obviously doesn't exist yet, it's likely only a matter of time before a full OS and baseband jailbreak vulnerability is found, exploited, and released.
Recently, Apple introduced an unlocked iPhone 4 in the U.S. and around the world, letting customers use the phone on T-Mobile and other unsupported carriers without having to jailbreak the device. This release comes at an unsubsidized device cost of $679.99, and still without support for T-Mobile's 1700 Mhz, 3G/4G frequencies.
Bottom Line: You can get a jailbroken or unlocked iPhone to work on T-Mobile today; but it's expensive and only supports GSM EDGE 2.5G speeds. TUAW is reporting that Apple will also likely release an unlocked iPhone 4S. (Those that jailbreak their devices, while potentially saving money on the cost of the device, will need to make certain they are aware of the risks to jailbreaking before taking the plunge and possibly bricking their device.)
2. Wait for the iPhone 5. The next evolutionary step for the iPhone is support for LTE and/or WiMAX. Since the iPhone 4S doesn't support those technologies, that's going to require a newer communications chipset. If the iPhone is ever going to natively support T-Mobile's 1700 Mhz 3G/4G network, this is logically the time when that support will be built into the device.
The issue is nothing more than the frequency that T-Mo uses to support 3G/4G. No other carrier in the world uses the 1700 Mhz frequency band; and it is unknown if Apple will release a T-Mobile specific device that makes use of these frequencies, without also building in support for LTE and/or WiMAX at the same time. While Apple did release a Verizon specific iPhone 4, it was the carrier's size that made that a reality. Apple waited until the release of the iPhone 4S to enable support for Sprint, even though they use the same communication technology as Verizon.
Bottom Line: Waiting sucks. However, with a probable, internal spec bump as well as an updated communications chipset, the iPhone 5 may be T-Mobile's best chance to get native support for their 3G/4G network built into the world's most popular smartphone.
3. Wait for the AT&T/T-Mobile Merger to be Approved. There are still a number of hurdles to get over--the Department of Justice, the FTC, Sprint's objections, and other issues--but this is the fastest way for T-Mobile customers to get a fully functional, 3G/4G enabled iPhone now. AT&T wants T-Mo for its spectrum to help support its LTE rollout in the U.S. While this really begs the iPhone 5 and its logical LTE support, an approved merger will eliminate the need for baseband jailbreaking as well as instantly giving 3G/4G support to those one million T-Mobile customers currently using the iPhone at EDGE-only speeds today.
Bottom Line: Waiting still sucks. However, from an iPhone point of view, this is a best case scenario for T-Mobile customers, and will provide an instant service enhancement to more than 3% of their customer base.
As a T-Mobile customer living in Chicago, I have my own issues and worries about the merger, as AT&T's network here is horrible. Coverage is spotty; and there are marked and noted tower transfer trouble spots throughout the Loop and rest of the city. Chicago was one of AT&T's early 3G markets, and the network is currently showing its age.
However, many T-Mo customers want the iPhone and don't want to pay full price or take the risks of jailbreaking a newly acquired iPhone 4S. So, like so many others, I'm waiting for my iLove, knowing that the easiest, most affordable way for me to get it, is for AT&T's proposed merger with T-Mobile to be approved.
Based in Chicago, IL, Chris Spera is managing editor of reviews at BYTE. You can follow him on Twitter at @chrisspera or email him with ideas and review suggestions at chr[email protected]
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