Apple isn’t actually doing this in a single device. It accomplished this by producing multiple variants of its two new iPhones – just as it did last year for the iPhone 5. Instead of three variants, both the 5s and 5c have four variants each, touting band plans targeting different regions of the world. Apple is even offering support in one of those iPhone sets for time-division LTE (TD-LTE), a different configuration of the LTE standard that will allow the iPhone to work on future 4G networks in China, India, Australia, the Middle East and Africa and other parts of Asia (Sprint’s forthcoming TD-LTE deployment, as of yet, is not supported).
Apple was late to the LTE party, which made sense given its strategy of making globally appealing devices. By the time the iPhone 5 arrived last year, LTE had really only established a firm beachhead in North America and several Asian countries. Consequently it had limited support for LTE bands outside of those countries. Most notably snubbed were many European operators and the new TD-LTE networks in Asia.
But Apple has closed the gap with the launch of this year’s line. The iPhone 5S and 5C will be pan-European phones. Apple has made variants of both devices that will target all three major European 3G bands: 800 MHz, 1800 MHz, and 2.6 GHz. And though there are several operators in Asia and Europe that aren’t on Apple’s list of LTE-supported carriers, many of their networks are still in the trial stages, which means they could tap the phones’ 4G radios when their networks launch.
Two operators notably not on the list of LTE support are NTT DoCoMo and China Mobile. While NTT DoCoMo will get its both new iPhones – its first – on Sept. 20, apparently they won’t support the carrier’s numerous specialty LTE bands. China Mobile, the world’s largest operator, hasn’t deployed its TD-LTE networks yet so it wouldn’t be listed as an LTE operator. While China Mobile’s future LTE bands are included in Apple’s band plan, the bigger problem might be the carrier’s 3G networks, which use a variant of CDMA that Apple isn’t supporting on any of the eight devices.
Apple also got within spitting distance of building an iPhone that will work across all major U.S. networks. AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile are getting the same set of devices. The lone rider here is Sprint, which due to its LTE launch in the PCS band will share the 5s and 5c with Japan’s KDDI and its new parent SoftBank.
The 5 and the 5S themselves support up 100 Mbps on the downlink, despite the fact that there are already 150 Mbps LTE networks popping up around the world. Still Apple is going for reach here, so it can afford to wait out another iPhone refresh cycle before upgrading its chips to faster speeds. The important thing is more people get access to multi-megabit 4G connections, rather than optimizing the device for the most advanced networks.