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Apple activated a hidden iPhone LTE band to help cell networks in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico iPhone

Having been hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria last month, Puerto Rico is yet to make a full recovery. Various areas of the island are still without power and drinking water, with the former issue affecting plenty of day-to-day activities, including communications.

Tech companies have stepped up to bring cellular service to areas of Puerto Rico where cell towers are still offline, with Google launching a Loon Balloon program. Apple and AT&T, meanwhile, have activated an LTE band that’s not available anywhere else in the US, to extend LTE coverage on the island.

LTE Band 8 operates on the 900MHz frequency, which gives it an improved range compared to lower frequency bands. This means users can connect to cell towers that are farther away than usual, and the signal will penetrate buildings better than other bands.

But Band 8 is not licensed to operate in Puerto Rico, which means AT&T and Apple have to enable it on iPhones via a special update.

“We are working with AT&T to activate cellular service for iPhone users in Puerto Rico as the island recovers from Hurricane Maria,” Apple told Tech Crunch statement.

“Apple engineers have created a special carrier settings update which users connected to Wi-Fi or who are connected to a cellular network will automatically be prompted to download throughout the week. The update allows iPhone customers with iPhone 5c and later models running iOS 10 or higher, to connect to a provisional band on the AT&T network so they can be in touch with loved ones and get services in this time of need.”

iPhone users on the island that can connect to the internet using existing cell towers or Wi-Fi will be prompted to download new carrier settings to access Band 8.

While this particular update targets iPhones in the region, Android devices that support Band 8 should also be able to connect to it. Furthermore, all devices in the region may connect to Google’s Project Loon balloons that should deliver LTE service to the area.

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he closely follows the events in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises. Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.