PHUKET: Last week I talked about the iPhone 5, how it compares to the Samsung Galaxy S III, and the problems that people from Toledo to Tashkent are going to have deciding which one to buy.
Here in Phuket, we have one HUGE question that doesnít concern much of the rest of the world Ė and itíll be a key factor in determining whether your purchase decision for an iPhone 5, should you feel so inclined, turns out to be prescient, or just another dud. Hereís the core of the problem.
When you buy an iPhone 5, youíll expect it to support LTE Ė so-called "4G" Ė technology, if and/or when it ever appears in Thailand. One of the big selling points for the iPhone 5 (and the Galaxy S III) is its support of LTE.
LTE is worth the wait. In many parts of the world, LTE is almost as fast as a WiFi connection over fiber optic. Thatís fast Ė astoundingly fast for a wireless connection. Last June, PC Magazine
ran a side-by-side comparison of LTE and HSPA+ carriers in the US. With real-world workloads, the Verizon LTE network in the US averaged 8.5 Mbps downloads. AT&T averaged 17.6 Mbps. Compare that to the 1 to 2 Mbps international download speeds that are common in Phuket, perhaps 8 to 10 Mbps domestic Ė and thatís for a wired connection.
Of course, if we ever get LTE, the big speed bottleneck will come when the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) artificially hold back international access. Theyíve done it before, theyíre doing it now, and thereís no reason to believe that will change in the future. But at least the last mile will be fast.
Apple hasnít yet announced the iPhone 5 release in Thailand, but they have announced it in many parts of the world, and thereís a dichotomy. Actually, a trichotomy. While most of the world thinks there is just one iPhone 5 (with different memory capacities and different colors), in fact there are three very different phones:
The Model A 1428 GSM runs LTE Bands (think "TV channels") 4 and 7, which just happen to be the LTE channels used by AT&T in the United States.
T-Mobile USA also has a planned LTE network that runs on band 4. Band 7 runs at 2.6 GHz. Band 4 runs at either 1.7 or 2.1 GHz. The latter, 2.1 GHz, is the frequency (with 9 "channels") being auctioned off in the "3G Auction" next month.
The Model A 1429 GSM runs Bands ("channels") 1, 3 and 5. Those are at 850 MHz, 1.8 GHz, and 2.1 GHz, respectively.
The former, 850 MHz, is the frequency currently used by CAT, DTAC and TrueMove-H for their "3G" HSPA+ network.
The Model A 1428 CDMA runs CDMA, which, with the demise of the CAT EV-DO network, is no longer supported in Thailand.
So here is the question. If youíre buying an iPhone 5 for use in Phuket, should you get the A 1428 GSM or the A 1429 GSM?
The short answer is: I donít have a clue.
I posed the question to Khun Papada,the Area Manager for Apple distributor Com7 International, and he doesnít know, either.
This isnít an Apple problem, really. Itís a Thailand regulatory problem. Which means, by definition, itís intractable.
If you get the A 1428, youíre betting that at least one of the "3G Auction" winners is able to muster the political and technical prowess to turn their 3G win into a 4G LTE network. I can hear the squeals at the trough already. If the 3G Auction winners are, in fact, restricted to putting up 3G networks, youíre dead in the water, because the phone doesnít support LTE on either TOTís 800 MHz or CATís 850 MHz networks.
If you get the A 1429, youíre betting that CAT will upgrade its existing 850 MHz system to an LTE network, or that one of the 3G Auction winners turns to LTE.
It isnít an academic question. Enormous amounts of money are involved Ė hundreds of billions of baht, over the course of the next few years. The regulators may have already given the nod for LTE deployment on the 3G Auction acquired bands Ė I canít find any information about it, one way or the other. Itís entirely possible, though, that the government is very strictly auctioning off 3G (presumably HSPA and HSPA+) access to the 2.1 GHz frequency. If that is the case, a phone company upgrading from 3G to 4G isnít simply a matter of buying more expensive equipment for the towers, itíll involve regulatory approval from somebody, somewhere.Thus, the squeal.
3G is a different story, of course. I havenít seen the published specs, but Iíd be willing to bet both iPhone 5 models will support all of Thailandís 3G services.
So, there you have it. I wouldnít be too surprised if Apple ponders this question for quite a while, before announcing which model(s) it will make available in Thailand.
If youíre looking at buying an iPhone 5 outside of Thailand, be intensely aware of the fact that Ė depending on Thai regulatory vagaries Ė the particular phone that you buy may or may not be capable of running 4G in Phuket in the future.
That is, assuming Phuket ever gets 4G.Woody's Sandwich Shoppes hold computer sessions under the tutelage of Seth Bareiss every other Wednesday afternoon, from 1 to 3pm. If you have a Windows problem that needs to be solved, drop by one of Sethís free afternoon sessions. Details in the Phuket Gazette Events Calendar.
Live Wire is Woody Leonhardís weekly snapshot of all things Internet in Phuket.
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