iPhone 5, meet Europe: Where 4G really means 3G, LTE is scarce

iPhone 5, meet Europe: Where 4G really means 3G, LTE is scarce

Summary: LTE is common in Europe, but the networks operate on different bands of spectrum. It just means that you're likely not getting LTE on your new iPhone 5 any time soon. Here's why.

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Despite the many winners and losers that sprung out of the iPhone 5 announcement on Wednesday, the cruellest joke is on you if you're living in Europe. 

Sorry to break it to you, Europeans, but many of you won't be getting 4G LTE on the iPhone 5 any time soon.

In fact, only two networks in Europe currently support the iPhone 5 on LTE: Deutsche Telekom in Germany, and EE in the U.K. (previously Everything Everywhere) which this week announced its new 4G LTE network. But it hasn't even launched yet, though pegged for a November release date.

So, for now, only 15 million people in Germany, out of a total 500 million people in the EU, can access the LTE network on their iPhone 5 handsets once they arrive in the coming fortnight.

That's 3 percent if you were wondering. What's the deal? 

apple-lte-europe-zaw2

This is where it gets confusing. 

In the U.S., you have (in simple terms) 2G, 3G and 4G. We have that in Europe too, but the U.S. has boosted 4G to make it something that it really isn't.

Despite the various language differences across the European states, there are some things we generally agree on. Italians make the best coffee, the French make the best wine, and the English will knock you for six if you spill their mug of tea. We also mostly agree on the definitions of our mobile services.

Remember how Apple got in trouble with the U.K. and Australian advertising authorities and was forced to take out the references to "4G" for its latest iPad 3? Why, because as far as the Brits, the Ozzies and the rest of Europe is concerned, 4G is LTE, and that's that.

Because it's far from exact, so here's a rough translation. 

What the U.S. says What Europeans say
2G (or "GPRS, EDGE") 2G 
EV-DO, HSPA, 3G 3G
HSPA+ (or "4G") 3G (at a push: "3.5G")
DC-HSDPA (or "4G") 3G (maybe "4G")
4G (or "LTE") 4G LTE

You see, we're quite simple. For us Europeans, 4G means LTE, and everything else means 3G. Whereas on the other side of the pond, marketing got their wicked way, and even managed to enabled "4G" on non-LTE iPhones while their owners were sleeping. 

The reason is that '3G' and '4G' are not protected terms, which means for all intents and purposes, the toaster in my kitchen could be considered a "4G toaster," despite the only connection it has to the outside world is through the wall socket.

apple-lte-graph-zaw2

Europe has had relatively healthy adoption of LTE services, but it could be better. Reuters notes that European operators are expected to spend more than $15.2 billion (€11.6bn) in the next three years as LTE picks up, according to Rethink Technology Research. 

Just as with the real-life European language barrier, the LTE networks can't talk to the iPhone 5 because the latest Apple smartphone is on an entirely different band of spectrum to the others.

Most European networks offer their LTE services on the 800Mhz or the 2.6GHz bands, including France, Italy and Spain. But the iPhone 5 runs on the 1.8GHz band. Let's not be bullish about this: the only reason why Deutsche Telekom and EE will offer the iPhone 5 on LTE is because they were lucky enough to be on the 1.8GHz spectrum in the first place.

This, naturally, ruled out using the iPad 3 on European networks because Apple didn't provide a tablet that worked within the spectrum range. The iPad 3 works only on the 700MHz band, which is fine for Verizon and AT&T in U.S. where the two networks' LTE service broadcast on that band. 

(It's worth noting: Apple did sell two versions of the iPad 3 because even though the two networks operated within the same range, the tablets wouldn't work across networks and required different hardware.) 

It just so happened that Deutsche Telekom and EE were already ready to go by the time the iPhone 5 launched, and have a large existing (or in EE's case, a potential market). Apple would ultimately gain from it, so it played ball.

It goes without saying, of course, the iPhone 5 -- just as with any other LTE-enabled phone -- will work just fine on the existing but slower European networks. Speeds will still be incredibly fast on HSPA+ and DC-HSDPA, but users won't be getting the full force of the LTE wind. 

Apple senior vice-president Phil Schiller, during his pitch to the media at the Apple event on Wednesday, was keen to stress that, while LTE is around twice-as-fast as its closest rival DC-HSDPA, which Europeans still consider 3G, the latter is available on 20 networks around Europe. That's a lot more networks than the two that support the iPhone 5 on LTE, but it means users will still benefit from generally faster speeds.

But again, DC-HSDPA still isn't available on every network in every country. It's certainly more popular in Europe than slower HSPA+, but it's not absolutely everywhere unlike even slower HSPA which many are still on. 

apple-lte-graph-zaw2

But it's not Apple's fault, really. The Cupertino, CA.-based technology giant is appealing to the greatest markets it can, and will build three different versions of the iPhone 5: one designed for U.S. networks for AT&T, another designed for Verizon and Sprint, and one for "other," which translate to "the rest of the world."

There's a lot riding on it. Apple didn't just plug 1.8GHz out of thin air; it found the average LTE spectrum range, worked with carriers, and appealed to the greater masses, just as it did with the iPad 3.

If anything, the iPhone maker has gone beyond the call of duty in accommodating as many LTE users in Europe as possible. It's Europe's fragmented LTE market that holds to blame.

If only there was some kind of executive body or even a commission for all European member states that could somehow intervene and dictate exactly how the industry should collaborate on industry-wide standards?

Oh, right. Yeah, we have one, but it's about as useful as a snooze button on a smoke detector. 

Even then, just as with the iPad 3, every country's spectrum is different. While some of the larger U.S. networks allocated 700MHz for LTE, the U.K. used that band for free-to-air "Freeview" digital television. You can't just reallocate spectrum overnight; a concerted effort to harmonize the spectrum across the board could take years if not decades.

Exactly how this will affect sales of the iPhone 5 in Europe remains to be seen. Apple doesn't break down regional statistics of its quarterly sales, though research firm Canalys believes the figure to be about one-fifth of Apple's global sales

All in all, it gives rival smartphone makers' space to breathe. If the LTE industry in Europe isn't going to play ball, it leaves Apple to make the best out of a bad situation. But as it doesn't really need to clamber for market share, its Samsung and Android competition notwithstanding, it gives rivals the opportunity to specifically target LTE adopters with region-specific hardware and push its way past Apple in the long-term.

Image source: Apple.

Topics: Apple, 4G, iPhone, iPad, Telcos, EU, Australia

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10 comments
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  • Reality

    4g is kind of useless anyway. The only thing it's good for is for lowering the latency due to the lower jitter, because of the faster retransmission of a lost packet in the radio transmission.
    The rest is bottlenecked at the mast and backbone due to technical and natural limitations.
    joozzt
  • 4G really?

    We won't get to 4G for a long time. LTE isn't actually 4G. See Wikipedia extract below:-

    In March 2008, the International Telecommunications Union-Radio communications sector (ITU-R) specified a set of requirements for 4G standards, named the International Mobile Telecommunications Advanced (IMT-Advanced) specification, setting peak speed requirements for 4G service at 100 megabits per second (Mbit/s) for high mobility communication (such as from trains and cars) and 1 gigabit per second (Gbit/s) for low mobility communication (such as pedestrians and stationary users).

    Marketing has just muddied the waters - unless of course you're Apple when you have exactly what your device tells you that you have of course ...

    This 3G/4G stuff is getting really tedious. As joozzt has stated, the access is just one part of the equation - rather like all those blisteringly fast home routers which were connected to lines giving ADSL at 2 or 3 Mb/s
    dc@...
  • The usefulness of 4G speeds

    Most cellular subscribers in Europe get 1-5GB a month at full speed, then data is throttled to sub-EDGE speeds.

    Assuming 100 Mbps is real, this is at least 10MB/sec, or 5 GB would be consumed in ... under 10 minutes. What then? Even at DC-HSDPA speeds the monthly allotment of 5GB will be consumed in half an hour. Or an hour for HSPA+ or just two hours for the "slow" HSPA.
    All this, assuming perfect conditions, that is. But if conditions are not perfect and those speeds are not achievable, why so much hype?

    These high speeds are all fine, but until services are appropriately scaled they make absolutely no sense.
    danbi
    • By that logic...

      ...I should be spending all my monthly wages the night I get them, as my bank has a very fast system in place that allows me to withdraw everything with incredible speed. But I don't, because that would be stupid.
      JazzDemon
      • Poor analogy

        ..like most analogies. These faster speeds would make streaming HD content from Netflix, etc. more viable. Except of course you'd eat through your data limit very quickly.
        MajorlyCool
  • 4G really?

    We won't get to 4G for a long time. LTE isn't actually 4G. See Wikipedia extract below:-

    In March 2008, the International Telecommunications Union-Radio communications sector (ITU-R) specified a set of requirements for 4G standards, named the International Mobile Telecommunications Advanced (IMT-Advanced) specification, setting peak speed requirements for 4G service at 100 megabits per second (Mbit/s) for high mobility communication (such as from trains and cars) and 1 gigabit per second (Gbit/s) for low mobility communication (such as pedestrians and stationary users).

    Marketing has just muddied the waters - unless of course you're Apple when you have exactly what your device tells you that you have of course ...

    This 3G/4G stuff is getting really tedious. As joozzt has stated, the access is just one part of the equation - rather like all those blisteringly fast home routers which were connected to lines giving ADSL at 2 or 3 Mb/s
    dc@...
  • Nokia supports the 4G LTE bands for Europe

    The new Nokia Lumia 820 and 920 supports all 4G LTE bands. Of course, Apple could have done this, if they licensed the technology from patent holders.

    From the Nokia UK website. Supported bands:

    GSM 850
    GSM 900
    GSM 1800
    GSM 1900
    WCDMA Band V (850)
    WCDMA Band VIII (900)
    WCDMA Band II (1900)
    WCDMA Band I (2100)
    LTE 800
    LTE 900
    LTE 1800
    LTE 2100
    LTE 2600

    http://www.nokia.com/gb-en/products/phone/lumia920/specifications/
    reidar76
  • Great article!

    Thanks for the comprehensive coverage of this subject. I really don't know anything about LTE but as I'm living in Germany and in the market for an iPhone 5 this article gave me a lot of useful information. I saw that Apple said Deutsche Telekom were the 'supported' carrier here in Germany but I wasn't sure what that exactly meant as I know that both Vodafone one 02 have LTE tariffs here too. I really didn't know what to do but I decided to hold off until I knew more.

    So, we know that Deutsche Telekom support LTE on the iPhone 5 but does this mean that the other carriers won't ever be able to support it or is it just a matter of time? The best iPhone 5 tariff I can see here right now is with 02 but they obviously don't support LTE on the iPhone 5. Unfortunately, Deutsche Telekom has ridiculous tariffs so it's really a question of how much a person wants that LTE. Hmm.
    darrylyoung
  • 4G really?

    We won't get to 4G for a long time. LTE isn't actually 4G. See Wikipedia extract below:-

    In March 2008, the International Telecommunications Union-Radio communications sector (ITU-R) specified a set of requirements for 4G standards, named the International Mobile Telecommunications Advanced (IMT-Advanced) specification, setting peak speed requirements for 4G service at 100 megabits per second (Mbit/s) for high mobility communication (such as from trains and cars) and 1 gigabit per second (Gbit/s) for low mobility communication (such as pedestrians and stationary users).

    Marketing has just muddied the waters - unless of course you're Apple when you have exactly what your device tells you that you have of course ...

    This 3G/4G stuff is getting really tedious. As joozzt has stated, the access is just one part of the equation - rather like all those blisteringly fast home routers which were connected to lines giving ADSL at 2 or 3 Mb/s
    dc@...
  • Thank you !!!

    for this article. Very good and clear explains the technology.
    4GLte.eu