Over the weekend AT&T announced it will buy T-Mobile for $39 Billion in cash and stocks to create the largest GSM carrier in the US. What does it mean for iPhone users? Nothing now but the future is going to be a lot bigger.
AT&T + T-Mobile = AT&T-Mobile
AT&T acquiring T-Mobile surprised many: a merger of this scale came out of nowhere and creates a GSM monopoly in the US. The merger has T-Mobile customers wondering about the fate of their service, handsets and whether they will get the iPhone. To answer the million dollar question: yes and no. The iPhone will not come to T-Mobile for a long time. The merger has only been initiated and has many hurdles to jump. Frequency differences also prevent the iPhone from using 3G and would only be truly compatible when a 4G LTE model is announced.
However, its not all good news according to Forrester research analyst Charles Golvin
“AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile, if approved, brings good news and bad news. The good news: high-speed mobile broadband service will improve in quality and coverage, including — in the long run — those in rural communities outside the reach of terrestrial broadband today. The bad news: the cost of that service won’t come down nearly as fast as customers would like, since AT&T and Verizon Wireless combined would own nearly three out of every four wireless subscriptions in the US. While clearly troublesome for Sprint and other mobile smaller mobile competitors, It’s also bad news for cable operators, whose incipient mobility products will suffer in comparison to what AT&T and Verizon can offer.”
It’s All About The G’s – 4G LTE
Besides becoming the biggest GSM carrier in the US, AT&T and T-Mobile have a lot to offer, namely 4G LTE. AT&T’s 4G rollout has been slow when compared to Verizon’s expansive coverage. T-Mobile on the other hand wants to push 4G hard, but doesn’t have the resources to do so fast enough. A merger would give the new company a dramatically larger footprint: 294 million people. T-Mobile’s towers will be repurposed to use 4G LTE which is the upgrade path both carriers are following.
A Year In The Making
Despite AT&T’s announcing a merger with T-Mobile, nothing will come to fruition for a year at least. However, some fallout is expected. AT&T (1900/850 MHz) and T-Mobile (AWS 1700/2100 MHz) use different incompatible frequencies for 3G coverage. This would render almost all T-Mobile phones useless on AT&T’s 3G network. As you start thinking about buying a new phone and planning a doomsday scenario for your device, don’t worry.
Any spectrum change wouldn’t happen for a year at least meaning your phone will work for the next 12-months as it does today. The day a spectrum shift occurs, AT&T is already planning on making your T-Mobile phone compatible:
That would leave current T-Mobile phones without 3G. They would need to be replaced with phones that use AT&T’s 3G frequencies. Ralph de la Vega, AT&T’s head of wireless and consumer services, said this will happen as part of the normal phone upgrade process.
It’s safe to say that a 4G phone will be the most compatible but buying one right now isn’t future proofing you. Wait until push comes to shove and invest in a better 4G phone when your plan allows for it.