Apple’s iPhone 7 ignores Band 66 for AWS-3 spectrum, which may slow carrier network buildouts

Apple's iPhone 7. Source: Apple

The new Apple iPhone 7 does not include support for the AWS-3 spectrum that wireless carriers and others spent a combined total of roughly $44 billion in bids to acquire during the FCC’s spectrum auction last year.

AWS-3 spectrum is included in the 3GPP’s Band 66.

“It is disappointing that Band 66 isn't included in the iPhone 7 specification,” Brian Goemmer, president of Allnet Insights & Analytics, a spectrum research firm, told FierceWireless. “It's not surprising because of the fairly recent 3GPP announcement of Band 66 but it means that any 2016 and 2017 AWS-3 network deployments will be waiting for the September 2017 release of the next iPhone before carriers have a device that would enable … their customers to reach their newly deployed capacity.”

Goemmer noted that the only AWS spectrum bands supported by Apple’s new iPhone 7 are in Band 4 (AWS-1 channels A, B, C, D, E, and F). The FCC’s AWS-1 spectrum auction concluded in 2006 and raised a total of $13.7 billion in winning bids; Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and other carriers currently operate networks on AWS-1 spectrum.

Prior to Apple’s iPhone 7 announcement, T-Mobile US said it expects to begin rolling out wireless services using its AWS-3 spectrum licenses as early as the end of this year, according to comments by company management to financial analysts at Jefferies.

T-Mobile was one of the main participants in the FCC’s hugely successful auction of AWS-3 spectrum last year; T-Mobile walked away with roughly $1.774 billion in winning bids in that auction, and the FCC issued those spectrum licenses to T-Mobile in April 2015.

AT&T, the big spender during the AWS-3 auction with more than $18 billion in winning bids, said last year it expects to begin deploying the spectrum “beginning in the 2017-2018 period.”

Dish Network, which spent billions of dollars on AWS-3 spectrum, is also a keen supporter of Band 66. The company announced last year that Band 66 also supports Dish’s AWS-4 downlink spectrum, as well as AWS-1 and paired AWS-3.

Of course, the lack of AWS-3 support in the new iPhone 7 likely won’t stop carriers from promoting the new gadget. For example, AT&T confirmed that new or existing DirecTV or U-verse customers who switch from another wireless carrier to AT&T can get a free iPhone 7, after up to $695 in monthly bill credits. (The carrier added that the deal is for one phone per account, meaning if a customer were to port four lines of service to AT&T, they still would only get on free device.)

Further, Apple is no laggard in supporting various spectrum bands. Although Band 66 is absent in the iPhone 7, the device supports a wide range of other bands.

For more:
- see the iPhone 7’s tech specs

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