News Analysis: A T-Mobile manager leaks iPhone plans but says it's for the 3GS version of the Apple iPhone.
As eWEEK reported back in early June, it appears that T-Mobile
will be getting Apple's previously exclusive iPhone later this year
new ruckus that's making the rounds now appeared because Wired Editor in Chief
Chris Anderson sent out a tweet reporting that he'd been told by a manager at
T-Mobile that the carrier will get the 3GS version of the Apple device. This
has resulted in a lot of speculation as to why such news would be sent out over
Twitter rather than through the magazine's own reporters.
I don't know the answer to that question. However, we at eWEEK have been
reporting that the T-Mobile iPhone is going to appear for several months,
including stories by Nick Kolakowski and me on June 10. The fact that T-Mobile
will be selling the iPhone
should surprise no one. The company already
sells the device in Europe and has an exclusive
arrangement in Germany,
which is about to expire. It only makes sense that the company, which is a part
of the giant Deutsche Telekom, would look for new markets. It also makes sense
that Apple would let it.
After all, AT&T, which currently has the iPhone exclusive in the United
States, is a finite market, and one that has
probably begun reaching saturation. In addition, T-Mobile will have to do very
little to make its existing iPhones work in the United
States. It may be that they'd have to add
one of T-Mobile USA's 3G frequencies that's not in use in Europe, but beyond
that, they already have what they need. A frequency adjustment is a fairly
minor change in the world of smartphones-much less significant than a change
from GSM to CDMA, which is what will be required for the future Verizon
What's curious about the rumor, however, is the report that the iPhone that
T-Mobile will get to sell will be the 3GS rather than the
iPhone 4 that AT&T has
. Perhaps this is due to contractual issues, or
perhaps it's due to Apple's inability to crank out even more iPhone 4 models.
So if the 3GS report is actually true, which remains to be seen, we still don't
really know why that might be the case.
The fact that we don't know for sure won't keep anybody from speculating, of
course. The T-Mobile iPhone already exists, and it already works on the
European version of 3G. This
HSPA+ network is very similar to the one that T-Mobile
is bringing on line
in the United States,
and it's dramatically faster than anyone else's data network. Right now it's
about twice as fast as Sprint's 4G network, and T-Mobile is already saying that
speeds will be upped significantly later this year. If the existing T-Mobile
iPhones can already handle its version of 3G, then this is one sure way to
avoid the clogged networks that are creating pain for iPhone owners on the
But that still doesn't answer the question of why it's alleged to be the 3GS
rather than the iPhone 4. Since the European version of the iPhone
4 also works on T-Mobile's HSPA+ network
, it's not so likely to be a
technical problem, unless it's somehow related to the iPhone 4's infamous
antenna. Again, this isn't clear.
So what would bringing the 3GS to T-Mobile accomplish?
For customers, that question is easy. Beleaguered
would finally have an option. People who live or work in
areas without AT&T coverage (the eWEEK location near Washington, D.C., for
example) could finally use an iPhone for something besides playing music-they
could make actual phone calls. And, of course, it would give Apple an
additional outlet for its iPhone line, which, considering that the 3GS is
already paid for, would be a great source of revenue, and we all know how much
Apple loves more revenue.
T-Mobile, of course, will likely get lots of new customers and will have
ways to retain existing customers, especially if its subsidies are favorable.
This will come in handy when its parent company starts the process of buying
pieces of Sprint. Again, there's nothing like a little more revenue to grease
the wheels of commerce.
But speculation aside, what will really happen? I think it's a safe bet that
T-Mobile will have an iPhone in one form or another in time for holiday
shopping. The company already has some big plans for product introductions
during that period, and it should be no surprise when the iPhone shows up at
company stores in the United States.
Whether it will be the iPhone 3GS, followed shortly by the iPhone 4, is
still open to speculation. But I think you can plan on seeing a T-Mobile iPhone
in November, followed by a Verizon iPhone in late January.