Although Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone 5 could push more wireless users onto LTE networks, there appears to be little change in the LTE roaming situation in the United States.
Apple plans to sell three different models of the iPhone 5 to support various LTE bands. The GSM version designed for AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) will support AT&T's 700 MHz B Block as well as AWS Band 4 (2100/1700 MHz), which is used in Canada by Bell Mobility, Rogers and Telus. The CDMA version for Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) supports Verizon's 700 MHz C Block spectrum and Sprint's 1900 MHz LTE service as well as three international LTE bands: 850 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz. The international GSM version, which will be used by EE in the United Kingdom, among other operators, sports those same three international LTE bands.
Yet for all of the attention given to the LTE bands, the roaming capabilities of the iPhone 5 are essentially unchanged from those of the iPhone 4S. The CDMA versions will have the ability to roam onto the same networks as the GSM version for AT&T, taking advantage of the UMTS, HSPA+ and dual-carrier HSDPA networks running on 850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz frequency bands.
"At a market level I don't think it really makes much difference," said Phil Marshall, an analyst at Tolaga Research. "I wouldn't say there's a competitive differentiation based on those band arrangements."
Moreover, U.S. iPhone 5 users will likely be stuck on the LTE network of their chosen operator because it appears that none of the LTE operators in the United States has signed LTE roaming agreements.
"Verizon Wireless plans to enable global LTE roaming on the iPhone 5 in the future," Verizon spokeswoman Brenda Raney said. "As there are many LTE frequencies currently being deployed around the world, Verizon will be surveying which markets line up best with the frequencies available in our version of the iPhone 5."
"We do not have any LTE roaming agreements yet," noted Sprint spokeswoman Kelly Schlageter. "We anticipate that roaming agreements will happen at some point. Building out the network is the first step there."
An AT&T spokeswoman declined to comment on LTE roaming for the iPhone 5.
The CDMA version of the iPhone 5 could potentially give customers using the device access to LTE networks in Japan, the Philippines, and Australia, parts of Europe, Hong Kong and South Korea. Yet without LTE roaming agreements, those capabilities will not mean much.
"I don't think it matters given the roaming arrangements that exist and given the maturity--or lack thereof--in LTE ecosystem," Marshall said. "The services will still be offered over the 3G networks in those environments. LTE roaming is not quite there."
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