Last week, Engadget confirmed that the T-Mobile model of the iPhone 5 will carry the same A1428 model number as the current AT&T/GSM domestic model. There is a small but critical tweak, however, for the new carrier: the iPhone 5 now will support the 1700 MHz HSPA+/AWS uplink band, which will enable higher performance on T-Mobile’s UMTS Band IV network. Older GSM iPhone 5 units cannot get this fix via software; it’s a chip change.
While this means that iPhone 5 and 4S handsets unlocked and moved from AT&T to T-Mobile can never get the highest performance on the UMTS bands, there’s hope; the iPhone 5 LTE support for AWS will work just fine on T-Mobile. Now there’s just the little question of building out that LTE network (see below).
In contrast to the other three US cellphone carriers, T-Mobile has moved to overhaul the most-despised feature of a phone plan: the contract. New subscribers have the option of buying the iPhone outright (starting at US$579 for a 16 GB model) or a payment plan of $20 a month for 24 months.
At the end of that payback window, however, that $20 comes right off the top of your bill — the phone is yours, so you don’t have to keep paying for it. (Try asking for that deal with Verizon.) Of course, if you do decide to leave T-Mobile with the iPhone before the two year window is up, you still owe the remaining balance of the purchase cost.
Regarding 4G and LTE, T-Mobile’s US network uses UMTS/HSPA+ “3.5 G” to achieve download speeds ranging up towards the 10 mbit/sec threshold — real-world performance may vary. That doesn’t really compete with the observed or best-possible LTE performance on Verizon, AT&T or Sprint (yes, there are spots in NYC where you can get 40+ mbit download speeds).
If you’re in the mood for crazy fast LTE wireless on T-Mobile, you have to wait. T-Mobile’s LTE buildout is covering only seven cities so far, with more coming this summer and fall. Interestingly, the specs page for the iPhone 5 on T-Mobile’s site only mentions GSM and UMTS (in the I and IV bands), with no discussion of LTE. That isn’t a reflection of the actual hardware capabilities, but more likely a marketing consideration — poor form to push LTE capability as a feature only available to a few customers.
If you’re considering a T-Mobile phone, check your coverage before you buy and let us know about your shopping experience! Theoretically, you can buy a T-Mobile iPhone 5 and use it with LTE on almost any carrier in the world, which should make globetrotters very happy.