Rumors are emerging that Apple will announce the latest iPhone, which the press has tentatively dubbed the iPhone 5, on September 12, which is just a little over a month away. Every iPhone so far has been a smash hit, and the iPhone 5 will undoubtedly be the coolest, greatest iPhone ever - but I'm worried about its sales.
Why would I say something so crazy? The reason has nothing to do with the phone itself. It is widely expected that one of the phone's biggest selling points is that it will probably be the first iPhone model to include Long Term Evolution (LTE) wireless, which was added to the iPad line earlier this year. LTE is true 4G, and it provides far faster download and upload speeds than any previous cellular technology. Just one problem: if you want to enjoy all that LTE speed, you need to connect to an LTE network.
In the United States, the iPhone was exclusive to AT&T for the first five years, and as a result, many iPhone customers are either loyal to AT&T or just plain shackled to them via contract. Would you like to know how many markets have AT&T LTE coverage at this writing? 51.
(You can view AT&T's coverage map here by clicking on "Coverage;" only the orange dots are LTE.)
There are over 19,000 cities in the United States. 19,000 minus 51 equals "Uh-oh." The iPhone 5 may have other great features (rumors include a larger screen, faster processor, and enhanced camera), but can you really imagine people lining up in droves if Apple says, "The new iPhone is fantastic! It has an amazing new flagship feature! You can't use it!"
All of this is speculation since nothing about the "iPhone 5" has actually been announced, but there's a good chance that if your city doesn't have LTE, the iPhone 5 will be a much more modest upgrade over the existing iPhone 4S.
Yes, you could defect to Verizon. Verizon is one carrier that has made better choices in terms of rolling out its LTE network much more quickly. This may work for some people, but nonetheless there are some parts of the US where Verizon's coverage isn't as good as AT&T's, plus there are all the hassles of paying an ETF, porting your number, and setting up an account with a whole new company.
Sprint is even further behind on LTE than AT&T, but at least they have a semi-excuse: they simply backed the wrong 4G standard. Early on, Sprint invested time and technology into the competing 4G option WiMax, which is, quite frankly, slower than 3G. To its credit, Sprint has all but admitted this was a mistake, and they are now abandoning it in favor of LTE, but they certainly have some catching up to do.
T-Mobile also lacks LTE, but since they don't have the iPhone either, that isn't really a factor here.
But why doesn't AT&T have LTE? The iPhone has been a tremendous cash cow for AT&T. LTE would be a great way for AT&T to use some of that cash to attract even more iPhone customers, satisfy existing ones, and relieve some of that network congestion AT&T constantly complains of since LTE uses bandwidth more efficiently than 3G standards do. Not to mention the potential for job creation with upgrading its infrastructure. So it turns out AT&T's reason for being so far behind in rolling out its LTE network is… I have no idea.
As a matter of fact, the only specific timeframe AT&T has announced for LTE is that they expect their nationwide network to be ready by the end of 2013. That means the "iPhone 6" could be out before your city gets AT&T LTE.
AT&T runs ads that boast "the nation's largest 4G network." AT&T makes this claim by paying marketing experts to put in extra hours coming up with innovative new ways to rename existing 3G technologies as "4G." Gee, thanks, AT&T. But for those of us who are excited about the new iPhone and want to see it become another smashing success for Apple, the obvious question remains: