In case you hadn’t heard, Apple announced three new iPhones today. The iPhone Xs, iPhone Xs Max, and iPhone Xr are undoubtedly “the most incredible smartphones ever created,” as Tim Cook and his band of merry execs spent nearly two hours explaining to us today.
But for one US carrier, the 2018 crop of iPhones is particularly significant. They’re the first that support LTE band 71, the 600MHz frequency that T-Mobile is using to build out its network. With most Android flagships from the last year already supporting band 71, Apple joining the party was the final piece that T-Mobile needed to start moving towards widespread compatibility with its new network.
Why does any of this matter? Well, because 600MHz is going to be the backbone of T-Mobile’s network going forward. It’s the lowest cellular frequency in use, and lower-frequency signals travel further and penetrate buildings better than higher-frequency signals. They do so at the cost of some capacity, but for rural users who would give anything for a 10Mbps LTE signal, and don’t really care if it’s 50Mbps, 600MHz is going to be key.
More importantly, T-Mobile has already spent a huge amount of money acquiring and building out its 600MHz spectrum, and all of that will be wasted if the most popular smartphones don’t support it. Apple snubbed T-Mobile and band 71 with last year’s iPhones, and there was some concern that the same thing would happen next year.
There’s other good news for wireless on the new iPhones apart from compatibility with 600MHz. The new iPhones also support LTE-Advanced technology, including 4×4 MIMO and LAA. We’ve explained in the past how those technologies work, but the upshot for consumers should be less congestion and faster overall speeds. The improvement could be so significant that some network testing companies are suggesting that the new iPhones will raise the average mobile download speed nationwide.