Apple lays groundwork for global LTE roaming with new iPhones

The company has in some cases almost tripled the number LTE bands on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus

By increasing the number of LTE bands to an astonishing 20 on the iPhone 6 models, Apple has paved the way toward global data roaming for the wireless technology. Now mobile operators just have to get their act together and agree on deals to make it a reality.

At the end of July there were 318 commercial LTE networks in 111 countries. Unfortunately, most of these networks are virtual islands, thanks to the technical complexity of implementing all of them on smartphones and tablets. However, with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus Apple has managed to get over that hump.

"I think this will matter a lot, actually. Because the new iPhones aren't just supporting the mainstream frequencies, but also up and coming bands such as 700MHz," said Alan Hadden, president at GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association), which keeps track of LTE's expansion.

Apple offers two different LTE configurations on the new iPhones, with either 16 or 20 bands. That's a huge improvement compared to as few as seven bands on versions of the iPhone 5s and 5c Apple put on sale in Europe as well as parts of South America and the Middle East.

Buyers of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in these parts of the world will be the big winners. For example, the 20-band model that will go on sale in Europe will work in Japan and the U.S and vice versa, according to Apple's LTE website. Those models are also compatible with TD-LTE, which is used in China, India, Brazil, some parts of Africa and by Sprint in the U.S.

TD-LTE or LTE TDD (Time-Division Duplex) uses one channel for both upload and download traffic, compared to LTE FDD (Frequency-Division Duplex), which uses separate channels for download and upload traffic. The latter technology is used by a majority of networks.

The models that Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile will sell have 16 bands, which is five more than was available on the their versions of the iPhone 5s and 5c. One of the bands Apple has added is 2600MHz, which is widely used in Brazil, Hong Kong and Europe. They lack support for TD-LTE, but still have enough bands to be used in most parts of the world.

Getting all the bands in place is only the first step, mobile operators have to agree on roaming deals that tie together their networks. Operators such as AT&T, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Swisscom, Telstra, TeliaSonera and Vodafone are leading the way, and some of them think Apple's upgrade can help increase the interest for international roaming.

More LTE bands supported should allow our subscribers to enjoy LTE speeds when they take their device abroad and we hope this will help an increasing number of users roam when abroad, according to Orange.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

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