New iPhones Include a Surprise Bonus For AT&T and T-Mobile Customers
Before Apple’s event, the news reports leaked the names of the three new iPhone models and most of the most important features. But buried deep in the device specifications released on Wednesday, the company disclosed that the iPhones would be able to operate on several wireless spectrum bands that were incompatible with its prior models.
All three new smartphone models—the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR—will be able to connect to wireless networks in LTE Band 71, which is used by T-Mobile for its newer 600 MHz spectrum licenses. And the three devices will also be able to connect to LTE Band 14, deployed by AT&T as part of its FirstNet government contract.
That means subscribers of those two carriers who favor the iPhone and buy a new model should be able to get better and faster connections in more places.
T-Mobile spent $8 billion acquiring 600 MHz band licenses at a government auction last year and has quickly started equipping its cellular towers with compatible transmission gear. The carrier says it has 600 MHz gear now working in 1,254 cities and towns across 35 states and Puerto Rico. The relatively lower-band frequency can help connect T-Mobile (TMUS) customers’ phones over longer distances and better penetrates obstacles like buildings than some of the other wireless spectrum bands the carrier uses.
AT&T (T) last year won a government contract to build a wireless communications network called FirstNet to connect first responders in emergency situations. The contract gave AT&T the right to use a special band of airwaves in the 700 MHz range set aside for FirstNet. But when the airwaves aren’t needed for emergencies, they are available for all AT&T customers who have compatible phones, like the new iPhones.
To be sure, Apple (AAPL) hasn’t always been at the cutting edge of cellular transmission standards. It didn’t include 3G wireless until the second version of the iPhone and, lately, Samsung has been quicker to add new 4G LTE bands. Even this year, Apple is relying entirely on Intel modem chips, forgoing similar chips from Qualcomm that can connect at even higher speeds.
Apple said its new iPhone XR would start at $749 and be available for preorder starting Oct. 19, with shipments beginning a week later. The XS, which starts at $999, and the XS Max, which starts at $1099, will be available for preorder starting on Friday with deliveries starting Sept. 21.