CNet is reporting that the latest iPhone is rumored to have LTE capabilities, and that Apple has been reaching out to Korean cell phone carriers KT and SK Telecom about offering the phone on their networks. However, the nebulous concept of “4G” has made the work of offering the iPhone on Korean networks more difficult.
4G technologies like WiMAX and LTE represent the latest round of cell phone networks that are currently being deployed around the world. EnGadget recently had a nice report that goes over the history of cell phone networks and the many different definitions for the generations of cell phone technologies available. Basically, the International Telecommunications Union has defined 4G to mean a certain level of bandwidth (100Mbps for mobile devices) and few “4G” technologies currently meet those standards. To make it even more difficult to follow, T-Mobile calls its HSPA+ network 4G as well, adding to the confusion.
But back to Korea’s telecom companies. While the iPhone will (presumably) support LTE, CNet notes the difficulty of aligning the frequencies of the phone with the individual countries and their spectrum allocations:
Both carriers are authorized Apple partners selling the iPhone in Korea, and both want the new phone to take advantage of their LTE networks. But supporting 4G LTE is trickier than supporting 3G because different LTE networks around the world use their own unique frequencies.
In the U.S., Verizon uses a 700-megahertz frequency, while AT&T uses both 700MHz and 2.1GHz. SK and KT both use different frequencies. So the burden rests on Apple to manufacture separate iPhones with different LTE modems to support the various frequencies. That’s why Apple doesn’t offer Korean consumers LTE as an option on its newest iPad.
Korea is one of the few countries in the world with strong LTE subscriptions. The Korea Times reports that Korea currently has 8.4 million LTE subscribers, which is roughly similar to the number of Verizon LTE subscribers. This is indeed an impressive fact, and a reminder of Korea’s penchant for being on the cutting edge of mobile technologies. Indeed, that means that we are approaching approximately 20% of Korea’s population on high-speed, 4G cell technologies, and that doesn’t even include the abundant Wi-Fi available throughout Korean cities.
Apple, KT, and SKT will all work out the details of these problems. For Apple, this issue will only become more frequent as more countries expand their 4G networks on more frequencies.