Apple’s iPhone 5, launched to great fanfare in the US on Wednesday, will not work on super-fast mobile broadband networks in much of Europe, potentially confusing consumers and setting back the development of 4G services in the region.
The problem lies in the range of spectrum — the airwaves used to carry mobile signals — used in Europe. The iPhone 5 is not compatible with 4G services on the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands deployed across much of western Europe, including Spain, Italy and France. Instead, it works on the 1.8GHz band, which is still being used for voice calls by most operators in Europe.
Apple will produce three models of the iPhone: one optimized for US carrier AT&T’s network and spectrum bands, another for carriers Sprint and Verizon’s US norms and a third for the rest of the world, including two European operators.
Only Deutsche Telekom in Germany and Everything Everywhere in the UK will initially be able to offer the fastest Internet access to iPhone 5 users in their markets because they are the carriers holding the right frequencies.
Apple could later introduce other models compatible with more European operators’ needs, analysts say, but for now some European operators will be hamstrung.
“Telecoms executives in Europe had a big dream that the iPhone would be the accelerator to kickstart 4G demand in their markets,” Informa analyst Thomas Wehmeier said. “That dream has now gone up in smoke because Apple has made the US and Asia norms the priority and shortchanged Europe.”
Europe’s construction of 4G networks is lagging behind the US and Asia, though European operators are expected to spend US$15.25 billion over the next three years to upgrade infrastructure to 4G speeds, according to Rethink Technology Research.
The region has only a few hundred thousand 4G subscribers, most of whom use laptop dongles or home routers because there are few compatible smartphones available.
That is starting to change as Samsung, Nokia and HTC (宏達電) bring out 4G-compatible smartphones that work on European norms. The lack of a compatible iPhone, however, is sure to disappoint some operators hoping to benefit from the positive marketing buzz around Apple’s latest device.
It remains to be seen how much a lack of 4G speeds will hamper sales of the iPhone 5 in Europe. Apple doesn’t break down regional revenue, but market research group Canalys says that 22 percent of iPhones sold in the second quarter were in Europe.