Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) unveiled its new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, which the company said feature 3D Touch that "senses force to enable intuitive new ways to access features and interact with content." The devices also sport Retina HD displays, 7000 series aluminum, and 12-megapixel cameras. Importantly, the phones support fully 23 bands of LTE, including the 700 MHz band 12 that T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) is using and Sprint's (NYSE: S) 2.5 GHz two-carrier carrier aggregation.
Sprint said that the new iPhones will launch with carrier aggregation capability, a feature of LTE Advanced. "Carrier aggregation-capable devices … have the ability to take full advantage of Sprint's deep 2.5 GHz spectrum position and experience significantly faster speeds. Cell sites with two-channel 2.5 GHz carrier aggregation deployed have the ability to deliver peak speeds of 100 Mbps or more to capable devices," Sprint said.
Sprint is using carrier aggregation technology to bind together various spectrum bands to offer faster speeds to users. However, smartphone vendors must add the technology to their devices for the service to work. Thus, Apple's support for Sprint's carrier aggregation efforts could help boost the carrier's position.
Sprint has started the deployment of two-carrier, 20x20 MHz carrier aggregation in the 2.5 GHz band in 80 markets, including parts of Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston and San Francisco. The carrier has said Sprint will be adding more markets over time. Sprint executives have long said carrier aggregation is what will help set Sprint apart from its competitors. Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure has said that, with carrier aggregation, Sprint expects capacity and speeds to double, and that, in markets like San Francisco, customers are seeing peak speeds of 125 Mbps to 135 Mbps.
T-Mobile was not able to immediately comment on the new iPhones, but according to Apple's specifications, both the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus support band 12, which is the 700 MHz band that T-Mobile is using to deploy LTE services across wide swaths of the rural United States. T-Mobile said last month that its 700 MHz LTE deployment now covers 130 million POPs and that the company will get close to 190 million POPs by the end of the year.
"With advanced wireless technologies including faster Wi-Fi and LTE Advanced, iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus users can browse, download and stream content even faster. The new iPhones also support up to 23 LTE bands -- the most in any smartphone -- for better worldwide roaming," Apple said.
Wells Fargo analyst Jennifer Fritzsche said in a research note that while it's difficult to say whether the additional spectrum bands and carrier aggregation support represent a ''game changer'' for either T-Mobile or Sprint, the upgrades do "represent a positive incremental step for both networks and one that should represent a noticeable improvement for both companies' network experiences."
It's unclear whether Apple's phones support Verizon Wireless' (NYSE: VZ) LTE Broadcast technology. The carrier's representatives didn't respond to questions on the topic.
Apple unveiled the two phones at a media event in California. The company also took the wraps off its new iPad Pro, its new Apple TV, new iterations of its Apple Watch, and its new iPhone Upgrade Program.
Apple said the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus are available for "$0 down with 24 monthly payments starting at $27 and $31, respectively," from Apple stores and from wireless carriers including Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. The pricing is noteworthy since it's different from the standard $199 with a two-year contract that Apple has previously touted for iPhone pricing. Though Apple said two-year contracts are still available for its new iPhones, U.S. wireless operators have largely moved away from that style of pricing in favor of equipment installation plans (EIP), which feature monthly fees.
Apple said the new phones feature its 64-bit A9 chip, support for 4K video, and its new Live Photos service, which essentially captures a few seconds of video with each picture.
According to Strategy Analytics, Apple is the No. 2 smartphone vendor globally, behind Samsung, capturing 14 percent of the market in the second quarter. In the United States the company ranks No. 1 with a 32 percent share of all phones sold in the market in the second quarter. Interestingly, Strategy Analytics said that the Apple iPhone 6 (with the 4.7-inch screen) "is currently the world's best-selling smartphone model, capturing an impressive 10 percent share of all smartphones shipped worldwide in Q2 2015."
And Apple continues to work to grow its share of the market; the company announced it will offer an Android app that will help Android users more easily move to an iPhone.
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