Handset compatibility could scupper early 4G launch
By Stewart Mitchell
Posted on 22 Aug 2012 at 10:35
Everything Everywhere scored a breakthrough when it was given approval to launch 4G services later this year, but a lack of compatible handsets could stop the company making the most of its headstart.
Phones need to be compatible with 1,800MHz – the spectrum Everything Everywhere was allowed to repurpose for LTE 4G – but because most carriers globally have opted to use other frequencies, manufacturers have so far been reluctant to include support.
"You can build a network but without devices people won't come," said Thomas Wehmeier, principal analyst for telco strategy at Informa Telecoms and Media. "For a successful launch you need to have smartphones - it's critical. Everything Everywhere will launch with some devices, but it would be much happier if it could have the real flagship devices."
For a successful launch you need to have smartphones - it's critical
Although there are a few handsets, such as the Samsung Galaxy S II, that include chips for the 1,800MHz range it is far from widespread. Samsung, tellingly, did not including it in the Galaxy S III, its current flagship phone.
"There are various frequencies being used around the world and a phone that works on one won't work on the other," Wehmeier said.
"Device manufacturers are focusing on the bands where they see the most scale and to date that means that the primary focus on the bands that the US operators are using, 700MHz and a variant of 2100MHz. Then there are bits and pieces in the 800MHz and 2600MHz bands, so it's all a bit of a mess," he added. "It's critical that Everything Everywhere gets out there and gets commitments from manufacturers to support the 1,800MHz band."
The issue is reminiscent of the advertising furore following the launch of the new iPad debacle. Apple was fined for selling a "4G" version of its tablet in Australia, even though the hardware was not compatible with local networks.
The situation may see dongles become the main access method for the early 4G service from Everything Everywhere.
Apple the joker
Without a flagship handset, Everything Everywhere could struggle to attract subscribers, but it could yet hold an ace if Apple's next iPhone can handle 1,800MHz LTE.
Previous iPhones have supported 1,800MHz frequencies, but only for GSM – not for LTE, which promises significantly faster data speeds.
"The big question is what happens in a few weeks' time when the next iPhone is launched. It's almost certain that it will launch with LTE – but there's a huge question mark as to whether it will support 1,800MHz," Wehmeier said. "If it does, it will be a real coup for Everything Everywhere because the combination of an early launch plus effective LTE exclusivity on an LTE iPhone would be a real competitive advantage - a really strong position."
However, inclusion of chips that support 1,800MHz service is far from certain. Although Qualcomm does make a chip that can support up to seven frequencies, it's not likely to appear in handsets until later this year.
Nobody has so far included more than four-band support in handsets because of the costs, both financial and in terms of battery life. Without widespread carrier support, it will be hard to convince manufacturers the costs are worthwhile.
"Everything Everywhere alone isn't big enough to convince Apple to include 1,800MHz, but the Korean operators want that frequency, Telstra down in Australia is desperate to have it," Wehmeier said.
"Those factors could be enough to convince Apple to do it, but the problem will be that Apple had to make that decision quite a long time ago and it's too late in the day to make changes. We just don't know – it will make that launch more interesting."
why does supporting more frequencies use up battery?
By gavmeister on 22 Aug 2012
Even though the S2 has the chip will it be enabled for LTE? Is there a list of compatible handsets anywhere?
This will probably delay my Windows Phone 8 upgrade while I wait for news of phone that can take advantage of LTE on EE. That said, their 3G is hardly setting the world ablaze so maybe I should wait to see some real-world tests first.
By onegin101 on 22 Aug 2012
I'd guess it's the phone constantly looking for the best frequency to use. If I turn 3G off on my phone the battery lasts significantly longer in areas where there is no 3G coverage (i.e. it doesn't bother looking for one all the time).
By onegin101 on 22 Aug 2012
Perhaps there is an opportunity that Nokia could take advantage of here.
By jgwilliams on 22 Aug 2012
I'm wondering if my GSM GNex will work since it is compatible with 1800...?
By GhillieDhu on 22 Aug 2012
EE will start 4G in 11th September and the new iPhone will be announced on 12th September.
After the mess of 4G on the iPad in Aus, Apple are unlikely to want to p!ss them off again.
My guess is that Apple have already decided to support 1800 and EE know this.
We'll find out soon.
By confucious on 23 Aug 2012
- Hands on with the new Google Maps
- Nokia Lumia 925 review: first look
- Why I won't subscribe to Creative Cloud
- GoPro camera strapped to a remote-control helicopter: the ultimate boy's toy
- Acer Iconia A1 review: first look
- Acer Aspire P3 review: first look
- Acer Aspire R7 review: first look
- How we produce the PC Pro podcast
- Google Now draining iPhone battery
- The government website that doesn't work with IE, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Macs or smartphones
- How to boost your mobile reception
- How to fix Facebook: Social Fixer
- Taking the stress out of WordPress updates
- Where to download free web fonts
- Turn your tablet into a Sky+ remote control
- How to measure the success of a new IT system
- Three years on: the state of the tablet market
- Windows 8: what works and what doesn't
- Yes, I write down my passwords
- How to make money from apps