Apple’s new iPhone SE was unveiled Tuesday, providing a 5G model for those consumers who don’t want to shell out hundreds more for a higher-end model. The latest iPhone SE will sell at the major U.S. carriers and unlocked for $429 without an installment plan.
The new iPhone SE includes upgrades like improved camera capabilities, longer battery life and notably, 5G. It becomes available for pre-order this Friday, March 11, with availability starting March 18. Carriers are offering various installment plans.
But a couple puzzling bits emerged about the new device. First, it doesn’t support millimeter wave frequencies, which Verizon made a big deal about during the launch of Apple’s first iPhone for 5G networks in 2020. All the models launched in 2020 came with mmWave band support.
AT&T was the big winner there, so lack of support for 3.45 GHz affects AT&T more so than other U.S. carriers. But analysts said it’s not that surprising given that 3.45 GHz is still fairly new to the scene. AT&T has said it expects to streamline the process and launch 3.45 GHz along with C-band in a “one-climb” strategy later this year.
As for the lack of mmWave support, a Verizon spokesperson indicated it isn’t because Verizon is backing off from mmWave for 5G.
“We are fully committed to mmWave. Our mmWave build is a critical differentiator and you will see us continue to expand our mmWave footprint to deliver game changing experiences for the densest parts of our network,” a Verizon spokesperson told Fierce.
Indeed, during Verizon’s investor day event last week, executives reiterated their desire to keep mmWave in the 5G spectrum toolbox. After all, it did spend billions on mmWave spectrum licenses and it now has some 31,000 mmWave sites on air, with the intent to keep building. All three U.S. carriers are using mmWave spectrum to some degree in their 5G buildouts, although Verizon certainly bet more heavily (some might say infamously) than its rivals.
Verizon also referred Fierce to Apple for specifics on the lack of mmWave support in this latest SE device. Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Of course, including mmWave support may have defeated the purpose of a lower end phone. Apple is targeting emerging markets with this cheaper iPhone and sub-6 GHz spectrum is more prevalent worldwide, said Anisha Bhatia, senior technology analyst at GlobalData.
“Adding mmWave, even for the U.S. market, would have added upwards of $60 to $120 to the phone cost, putting the iPhone SE on the very edge of the mid-range category,” Bhatia said.
Moor Insights & Strategy principal analyst Anshel Sag echoed that sentiment, saying he thinks Apple left out mmWave because it probably would've required an entirely new chassis and a more expensive bill of materials (BOM), which defeats the purpose of the iPhone SE SKU, which is relatively affordable.
“I don't think Verizon is going soft on mmWave as much as I think Apple likely told Verizon it wasn't going to happen and if Verizon didn't want the iPhone SE that it would probably be their loss, not to mention they are rolling out C-Band,” Sag said. “This is Apple's first iPhone (in the U.S.) without mmWave and Verizon's first 5G device without mmWave (to my knowledge).”
The new iPhone SE supports all three blocks of C-Band, including the band that Verizon is currently using for C-Band, Sag noted. “The interesting thing is that when Apple produces iPhones it usually makes multiple SKUs for the entire world to accommodate band differences (like mmWave) and other requirements, but the iPhone SE is a single SKU product, which is also likely a component of its cost sensitivity since a single SKU ends up costing Apple less money to produce and helps to optimize the supply chain,” he said.
And as for the 3.45 GHz support, both analysts suggested it’s probably just too early.
“As far as I can tell, there should be no reason why the iPhone SE wouldn't support the 3.45 GHz block of spectrum for any reason other than it probably hasn't been qualified yet since the auction just closed recently. It would technically fall between bands N77 and n78, which are already both supported on the device's spec sheet,” Sag said.
Minimal impact from Russia ban
Bhatia predicts Apple’s decision to stop sales in Russia will have minimal impact on the sales of the 5G iPhone SE. Russia’s 5G networks are not expected to go live until 2023, and although 5G phones are getting popular in the country as a novelty factor, Russia is not a major market for Apple, accounting for about 2% of Apple’s worldwide revenues, she said.
“Apple also does not have any physical retail stores in the country; ceasing online phone sales in Russia will not affect Apple’s bottom line significantly,” Bhatia said.
The $429 price for the base iPhone SE 5G is slightly more expensive than the 2020 iPhone SE as well as phones from rivals Samsung and Xiaomi. “But Apple has a huge installed base of legacy iPhone users still waiting to upgrade. With carrier promotions and discounts, the iPhone SE 5G is all set to carry on Apple’s 5G super cycle,” Bhatia added.