Last year when Apple released the iPhone 5, we said that not all 4G bands are created equal. Limited band support for LTE on the iPhone5, combined with Apple’s commercial agreements, meant that the high-speed capability of LTE remained limited to a select club of carriers.

This year this is all changing… While some observers are griping about the lack of new features on the latest iPhones – the most visible new features being a finger print i.d. sensor and a choice of colors – some of the most important new features that will promote even wider spread adoption are actually the ones that are “under the hood”:

  • Support for about a dozen frequency bands supporting LTE on the same device;
  • A model with Time Division Duplex (TDD) LTE for Asian markets;
  • Inclusion of both Lower and Upper 700 MHz frequencies on the same device;
  • Unlocking the hidden value in higher frequencies.

Frequency bands: Unlike the limited spectrum band selection for LTE included in the iPhone5, the new iPhones in North America have a dozen bands. In addition to AWS, 700 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz, LTE support is now included for the cellular and PCS bands, as well as European 900 MHz and the coveted 800 MHz digital dividend frequencies (awarded in many high profile auction processes since 2010). The Sprint version includes the extended cellular range, which covers ESMR, and also supports Japanese cellular frequencies. The North American models do not include the 2600 MHz range (3GPP Band 7); licenses for this are held by Sprint in the US and Rogers/Bell Canada in Canada. The European model though does include the 2600 MHz band, which has been licensed for 4G in many European auction processes since late 2009.

TDD for Asian markets:  The Asian model includes support for the time division duplex (TDD) version of LTE in three different bands along with conventional frequency division duplex (FDD) technology in seven other bands. One TDD band is 2570-2620 MHz, 3GPP Band 38, coexisting on the same device as the FDD portion of the same frequency range – 3GPP Band 7, which as noted above is already licensed extensively. In the US, Sprint/Clearwire is planning to use the entire range for LTE-TDD, 3GPP Band 41, not yet supported by the iPhone.

But wait, that is not all…

Upper and Lower 700 MHz, but not A block: One of the most interesting aspects of band support on the new iPhone is the inclusion of both the Upper and Lower 700 MHz frequencies on the same device. Apple seems to have done something heretofore thought impossible. While there is still one model for GSM voice and another for CDMA voice, both models include the Upper as well as the Lower 700 MHz bands. So with the development of voice over LTE (VoLTE) the need to distinguish one ecosystem from another may vanish. The US FCC initiated a proceeding on Lower 700 MHz band interoperability back in 2010. A day after the new iPhones were announced, the FCC announced a solution to the issue of Lower 700 MHz band interoperability, with AT&T agreeing to build in support for handsets that include the Lower A Block – a major victory for the many small carriers that hold A Block licenses. On the other hand, the iPhone does not support Lower A, Apple only recently stating to the FCC that including A Block would be “problematic”.

Hidden value in higher frequencies: Over the past year or so, the 1800 MHz and AWS bands have become the workhorses of LTE; particularly for the iPhone for carriers other than AT&T and Verizon and for those outside the US. Licenses for 1800 MHz were often sold in auctions for a song, relatively speaking, and iPhone support allowed carriers with those licenses – such as Everything Everywhere in the UK – to get a leg up on rivals, which often held bands not supported by the iPhone. Many 2600 MHz licenses have been awarded globally for very low prices and this band is now starting to appear on iPhones. Perhaps confirming the brave new world of hidden value in higher frequencies, there is a license auction underway in Taiwan at present (where the new iPhones are not yet available – even though they are made there). While not finished yet, after 80 bidding rounds, the most attractive license in the 1800 MHz range (15+15 MHz) is currently at a 90% premium to the best block in the 700 MHz band (15+15 MHz). So all bands are suddenly a bit more “equal” – possibly in the sense that the value of all the LTEsupported bands just went up – and this may very well be the most important new feature the iPhone. Spectrum management gets simpler and more complicated at the same time. Lemay-Yates Associates Inc. and LYA International Inc. are pleased to support its clients with a complete spectrum auction toolkit. The independently developed LYA Auction Platform and Game Simulator is available for mock auctions and development of bid tactics. The LYA platform is available for licensing on a standalone basis, or can be integrated as part of auction support services for bidders or regulators planning spectrum auctions. LYA is also an expert in financial modeling and valuation of spectrum-based businesses and licenses, and in auction formats and licensing policies and terms and condtions. LYA tracks auction valuations for mobile and fixed spectrum worldwide, including publishing c-Ahead® Strategic Research Reports on Spectrum pricing.