Tech Industry

iPhone 5 on T-Mobile? It could technically happen

The technical hurdle that has prevented the iPhone from coming to T-Mobile will be resolved with the next chipset, says the carrier's chief technology officer.

Image composite by Joe Aimonetti

LAS VEGAS--The technical hurdle preventing the iPhone from coming to T-Mobile USA could be cleared when the next iteration of the phone comes out.

That's the opinion of Neville Ray, chief technology officer of T-Mobile, who said he believes the iPhone never made it to T-Mobile because of the unique band of spectrum, known as AWS, that it uses for its wireless network.

T-Mobile has been left out in the cold as the other national carriers--and regional carrier C-Spire--have begun selling Apple's hit device. CEO Philipp Humm, speaking at a press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show today, admitted the lack of the iPhone has hurt its ability to retain subscribers, particularly high-value-contract ones known as postpaid.

T-Mobile has expressed interest to Apple but has seen little response. Last October, when the iPhone came to the other three carriers, T-Mobile posted a blog saying it was Apple's decision, and touted its other high-end smartphones.

Ray, however, said T-Mobile's unique spectrum would have required extra work to ensure the iPhone ran correctly on its network. But the next chipset that Apple plans to use will be able to overcome that hurdle, he said.

"The next chipset will support AWS," he said in an interview with CNET. "The challenge that existed in the past will go away."

Ray said Apple has the option to move to AWS with the roadmap of chipsets on the market. The executive has seen the chipsets that are available to all of the original equipment manufacturers. The company later clarified that Ray hasn't seen Apple's specific roadmap. But he noted Apple could choose to ignore that capability and not strike a deal with T-Mobile.

Even if T-Mobile gets the iPhone, the next version is widely believed to run on LTE, which is where the other three major carriers are headed. Ray didn't comment, only noting it would depend on where every carriers' network would be, including T-Mobile's.

Though T-Mobile has a widely known spectrum shortage, Ray said it isn't impossible to deploy LTE in some markets. In certain areas, the company could repurpose spectrum reserved for GSM and move it to its current HSPA+ network (which it calls 4G), freeing up space on AWS for LTE.

Ray said the company will continue to be aggressive in improving its network. T-Mobile is back on the road to recovery after AT&T scrapped its planned takeover deal last month. The company is expected to unveil its turnaround plans late in the first quarter.

Updated at 11:19 a.m. PT: Added a clarification from T-Mobile that the CTO has not seen Apple's roadmap.