Can T-Mobile handle the iPhone?

What to expect if the iPhone officially comes to T-Mobile.

T-Mobile
How will T-Mobile handle an official iPhone? Composite by Joe Aimonetti/CNET

Today's word that T-Mobile plans to sell Apple products in 2013 certainly sounds like great news to the iPhone and TMO faithful. The question remains, however, if the carrier can deal with the increased load Apple's uber-phone will put on its network. It's also unclear whether the latest iPhone 5, which boasts 4G LTE data access on other networks, will offer the same performance after joining T-Mobile's roster.

As a matter of fact, the catch-all term "Apple products" T-Mobile stated could mean devices ranging from iPads, older fourth-gen iPhones, the current iPhone 5 , or even a new T-Mobile-branded iPhone 5S. I certainly have a lot of questions about what's in store in the coming months concerning T-Mobile's integration of Apple hardware. At the moment there are no really solid answers, but I'll ask them anyway.

What the heck is happening to T-Mobile's network?
T-Mobile has already started to migrate its HSPA+ services from its legacy 1,700MHz spectrum over to the more compatible 1,900MHz. That means everything from fourth-generation iPhones such as the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S to the new iPhone 5 should be able to grab a 3.5G HSPA+ data connection. Previously these gadgets, specifically unlocked GSM models, were stuck in the slow lane of EDGE 2G when ported over T-Mobile's network.

LTE or not?
It's no secret that T-Mobile is working hard to offer its own flavor of fast 4G LTE. What's not so obvious it what form T-Mobile's future LTE network will take. The likely scenario is that T-Mobile will convert its existing 700MHz spectrum, now used for 2G data infrastructure, over to LTE. The carrier has also said it plans to have LTE offerings by the end of 2013 .

Will T-Mobile's iPhone be 3.5G only?
Since it will take some time to roll out its 4G LTE network, it isn't too far-fetched that the first T-Mobile iPhone will not be a true LTE handset. Rather it's possible T-Mobile will rush to market its own branded iPhone 5 with no LTE support whatsoever.

Is a new T-Mobile iPhone 5S in the works?
Perhaps instead of a crippled iPhone 5 missing 4G LTE skills, T-Mobile has something a bit more exciting in the works. A much more enticing situation from both a consumer perspective and for T-Mobile's brand marketing is if the carrier has an exclusive handset, say a iPhone 5S, up its sleeve. This imaginary iPhone 5S would support T-Mobile's special flavor of 4G LTE, which the carrier and Apple could launch timed with a brand new LTE data service.

Could T-Mobile fear the iPhone at least for now?
The most depressing possibility, for Apple fans, anyway, is that T-Mobile doesn't want to touch the iPhone at all, at least until it's done tinkering with its network. When Sprint began to sell its first iPhone, the 4S, it was clear to many subscribers that the company's creaky 3G infrastructure initially couldn't handle the pressure of all those new data-hungry users. Maybe T-Mobile will officially sell iPads at first then offer iPhone devices months down the road, essentially when it's good and ready.

Can T-Mobile deal with an influx of iPhone users? T-Mobile USA

Whatever eventually happens, it's plain that Apple will play at least some role in T-Mobile's future. If that includes spicing things up with 4G LTE as well, it'll go a long way to improve T-Mobile's tarnished image as a slow, superphone-lacking budget carrier. Of course the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and LG Nexus 4 are nothing to shake a stick at, iPhone or no iPhone.

About the author

Brian Bennett is senior editor for appliances at CNET and reviews a wide range of household and smart-home products. These include everything from microwave ovens, blenders, ranges and coffee makers to personal weather stations. An NYC native, Brian now resides in bucolic Louisville, Kentucky where he dreams of someday owning the sparkling house of the future.

 

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