iPhone 6's LTE support isn't quite good enough for T-Mobile

Apple says the iPhone 6 has broader support for LTE than any iPhone before it: It supports 20 different LTE bands, up from 13 for the iPhone 5S. Unfortunately, support is absent for a new LTE band that T-Mobile USA is spending a lot of effort (and money) to deploy: LTE Band 12. It's disappointing news for some T-Mobile customers, but it shouldn't be entirely unexpected.

LTE provides for much faster data transfer over cellular connections, which means your iPhone spends less time connecting to the Internet, checking mail, and keeping you connected to what's important to you. It also enables the iPhone to support advanced technology like Voice over LTE (VoLTE), which treats voice as data and can yield higher quality voice connections than before.

T-Mobile has spent much of the past two years building out a modern 4G LTE network, upgrading its towers and expanding its network footprint. As the company builds out its existing network, it's also trying to shore up some inherent infrastructure problems: T-Mobile's coverage is notoriously poor in many rural areas, and because of the GSM radio frequencies it uses, its cell signals don't do a great job penetrating buildings.

To solve both problems, T-Mobile struck a multibillion deal with Verizon earlier this year to acquire a block of spectrum in the lower 700 MHz range — better for shoring up the areas that T-Mobile remains weak in. That deal closed earlier this year following FCC approval, and T-Mobile is already getting the 700 MHz spectrum online.

The spectrum T-Mobile purchased is part of the "A Block" range - an area of radio spectrum largely unused by wireless carriers before now. The LTE Band 12 standard works across this part of the radio spectrum. But phones that support that standard are still in short supply.

T-Mobile's been an Apple partner since April of 2013, and has aggressively promoted the iPhone as part of their product offerings ever since, even offering potential customers a "Test Drive" to let them try the iPhone 5S for free for a limited time to test their network.

When T-Mobile started selling the iPhone 5, Apple updated the phone with a new GSM version (the A1428 model) to support the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum T-Mobile uses. So there was some hope was that Apple would be early to the game with LTE Band 12 support as well. Alas, that wasn't to be.

In fairness to Apple, the iPhone 6 was already well into development before T-Mobile's 700 MHz deal with Verizon was announced, much less approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), so it shouldn't have been a surprise at all that the iPhone 6 lacks LTE Band 12 support.

In a statement to iMore, T-Mobile said:

Band and chipset decisions are made very early in a device development lifecycle. Since we just acquired this spectrum earlier this year, we were too late to include band support in these devices. We'll continue to work closely with all our OEM partners to address band support for future devices and are currently working hard to get 700 MHz devices into consumer hands later this year.

With the release of iOS 8 and the introduction of the iPhone 6, T-Mobile's also advertising Wi-Fi calling as a key feature of their service — even to offer special "Personal CellSpot" routers that prioritize Wi-Fi calls. So the company is doing other things to bolster indoor service while their 700 MHz deployment forges ahead.

But for iPhone 6 users looking for LTE Band 12 service, we're out of luck. I guess we'll have to hope that by this time next year, whatever Apple has up its sleeve to replace the iPhone 6 will expand LTE support even further.

Are you disappointed that LTE Band 12 isn't supported on the iPhone 6? Does Wi-Fi calling make it up to you? Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.

  • It is unrealistic to think that Apple should anticipate every carriers infrastructure upgrades - so I give Apple and T-Mo a bye on the iPhone 6. But once band 12 is fully deployed for the carrier, I think it is acceptable to expect Apple to include it on devices in the next year; two years max.
  • Great way to word that. I'd agree. Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • Agreed Sent from the iMore App
  • Just include all the bands!
  • Gee... if only it were that easy.
  • Seriously? That's all you have to provide to the conversation? Let the adults talk.
  • Forgive me for not being an adult, but why is it necessary for the sarcasm? More to the point, why can they not support more bands? Or indeed all of them? Sent from the iMore App
  • Cost. Design. Logistics. Sent from the iMore App
  • Haha I guess some people don't take jokes/sarcasm very well. Of course they can't include all the bands. But I can't wait for software modems, where they can change the bands on the fly via software.
  • Actually they already can. The new moto x just received software update to support additional bands. http://www.androidcentral.com/moto-x-pure-edition-xt1095-may-soon-get-mo...
    Maybe Apple will send update to support new bands by Tmobile like Motorola did
  • No. The hardware already had those bands, but they were disabled in software. The software update only enabled them. Totally different thing.
  • Exactly. You can't magically add hardware over the air. That would require fcc approval and a fairy. Sent from the iMore App
  • Exactly!!! I was so lost for a second. Like....since when could we add hardware over the air... Sent from the iMore App
  • That's silly. You can't add support for a band that didn't exist when the device was made, and you can't support every frequency in the spectrum. That's like someone trying to make a port for a new device that fits every shape and size connector you can possibly think of for the future. That's just silly and impossible.
  • Sprint went through the same thing last year with band 41 missing from the 5S. This year they have it on the 6/Plus. I expect TMobile to have band 12 next year on the 6S/6PlusS.
  • I really hope so! I went back to Android because the coverage in my area (among other things) is very spotty with devices without Band 12. It's really good with the Android phone. If not, I guess I'll wait for the iPhone 7, but I don't wanna lol.
  • Agreed Sent from the iMore App
  • I understand, but still disappointed. Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • I'm not terribly disappointed by the lack of support for Band 12. Virtually no one is actually using it right now. Like Peter stated above, the deal between T-Mobile and Verizon wasn't even announced, much less finalized, when Apple was designing this part of the phone. With no carrier partners using Band 12, why would Apple include support for it in this generation of devices? However, I bet the next generation (iPhone 6S/6 Plus S?) will include support for it. Also, I'd like to see them go back to 1 SKU in the next generation, like the 4S. I don't really understand why the 6 and 6 Plus each have two SKUs. The only difference I can tell between them seems to be the inclusion of the bands for TD-LTE (used by Sprint for Spark and also China Mobile) and TD-SCDMA (used by China Mobile only, I believe).
  • This latter part was a surprise to me too. Other than the addition of these extra bands, I don't see a difference between the phones based on Apple's posted technical specs. Thus, it makes you wonder why, if nothing is dropped going to the "more compatible" model, why they didn't just use that one for everyone?!? Sent from the iMore App
  • Want to, sure they do... Can they? They CANNOT physically put all bands on the same phone. It's a limitation of the LTE Chipset .. They don't make that, they purchase it from Qualcomm. The iPhone 4S didn't have NEARLY the number of spectrum bands to support that current LTE phones require. The iPhone 6 models have more LTE bands supported than any other OEM smartphone manufacture currently. Sure they would love to. It cuts down tremendously on MFG costs.. Lets not misconstrue this; and call it what it is.. An engineering and technology limitation based on available technology for mass production.
  • Of course it is a limitation of the available technology. But if you look at https://www.apple.com/iphone/LTE/,#mn_p the bands that the Sprint/international version supports is the same as the ATT/VZW/TMO model and then some. Unless the two SKUs are using different chipsets. But I have not heard anything like this. Can anybody confirm if the two different versions use different Qualcomm chips?
  • to support this comment, the iPhone 4S did not have LTE at all. iPhone 5 was the first to have LTE in iPhone. In fact, the 5 only had a few bands, so, when Apple was getting ready to come out with the 5S, in order to have 2 iPhones capable of doing LTE in emerging markets (outside of US) they updated the 5, keeping everything the same except upgrading the LTE chips and a different case, calling it the 5c, so apple could offer 2 phones in those markets.
  • I'm very, very disappointed, this is hampering my almost 2 year wait to switch to T-Mobile, I've been seriously considering switching from my last 10 years w/AT&T (formerly Cingular), for various reasons. Here is my dilemma: The big problem, is, and this is an assumption, I will get 2G/EDGE where T-Mobile has upgraded their network to LTE band 12. I'd like to get iPhone 6 and switch to T-Mobile, but, don't want to waste $750 on a phone that won't do the network's best, and I won't likely upgrade for 2 years...that's just too long to not be able to use LTE. The second big problem, my iPhone 5 A1428 model (AT&T, but, now unlocked, capable of any supported GSM network), is one made before Apple added the above mentioned frequency, so, I will definitely get 2G/EDGE with my current iPhone, so waiting is not a good option, either. What to do? Wait a few months, will Apple add the frequency to iPhone 6? (they update iPhone 5 with above mentioned frequency in April '13, 6 months or so after it first came out). Plus, now someone else is trying to buy T-Mobile? T-Mobile has promised to upgrade their coverage to all LTE by mid-2015, so, this was supposed to be a plus for switching, but, if that means on a LTE band that is not supported in new iPhone 6, now what?
  • The big problem, is, and this is an assumption, I will get 2G/EDGE where T-Mobile has upgraded their network to LTE band 12. I'd like to get iPhone 6 and switch to T-Mobile, but, don't want to waste $750 on a phone that won't do the network's best, and I won't likely upgrade for 2 years...that's just too long to not be able to use LTE.
    The 700 MHz build out is happening while the company is building out the rest of their network, and it's to provide additional service, not an either/or scenario. So no, I don't think it's reasonable to assume that if you're in a 700 MHz area that you'll be on EDGE the entire time if you don't have a Band 12-capable iPhone. I live in an outlying area, and I get plenty of LTE coverage through T-Mobile. When it's not on LTE it's usually displaying 4G (on an iPhone 5S and an iPhone 6). I still fall back to EDGE occasionally — more frequently than I'd like — but I save so much money with T-Mobile compared to AT&T, it's worth it to me to deal with occasional issues.
  • Your iPhone 5 will work fine on T-Mobile's LTE. They run LTE on Band 4, the same as AT&T. The tweak that Apple made to A1428 for T-Mobile was to add support for HSPA+ on AWS. That's where your iPhone falls short - it won't be able to work on T-Mobile's HSPA+ network, but if you have an LTE signal, you should be good to go.
  • wow, quick replies, I found my new place for apple info.! in reply to both of you, ok, so, if I'm in an area where it's LTE band 12, I may get 4G HSPA+, but, again, my iPhone 5 does not support T-Mobile's HSPA+ band, and, while T-Mobile may use LTE band 4, they also use band 12, which they are building out now, so, that means, where one might get only 2G/EDGE now, where T-Mobile upgrades it to LTE band 12, I won't be able to get it. ...If you look at my other comment (after this), T-Mobile is moving fast to upgrade to LTE, which is one of T-Mobile's downsides (2G/EDGE outside of cities). Plus, the 12 band penetrates buildings better (as it's 700MHz A). It's just such a downer, if I were to get a new phone that's supposed to be the best for the next two years, but, it doesn't have one little channel to take advantage of that. Just seems like a large oversight by Apple.
  • (BTW: I'm a traveler.)
  • For this reason I purchased a cheap TMobile phone Samsung Galaxy Avant. Beside my iPhone, if necessary, I can switch my SIM and have it connect. Workaround, I know, but the one necessary if you want to be covered when you are traveling.
  • I'm hesitating buying iPhone 6 because it doesn't do LTE ch 12, but, that's $200 on sale, still doesn't do LTE ch 12, I can just keep my iPhone 5 and connect fine, no money out.
  • I work in a well-covered area: full signal LTE. I live in a poorly-covered area. 2G/EDGE if I'm lucky. However, that only effects data. There's about a 10 minute portion of my 30 minute commute where I get Cell/SMS coverage, but no (or very very slow data). This really doesn't bother me that much. It's a *little* irritating to have to make sure Podcasts / Music is on the phone instead of streaming, but it's acceptable. Regardless, I'm usually in an area with either great LTE coverage *or* WiFi. My dilemma: There seems to be some complexity with Continuity / WiFi calling. I have to juggle the WiFi calling toggle depending on where I am and what my coverage looks like. This makes me sad. (First World Problem solution: the iPhone could auto-toggle to WiFi calling when signal is low / degraded but WiFi is available and good.) Distilled to its essence, it's really not *that* bad juggling between good carrier network bands and bad ones. The cost savings on five lines is *well* worth it to me.
  • I've read this issue will be addressed (or already has been in the betas) in iOS 9.
  • let's hope so, if that's the case, I will try WiFi calling again. Previously, it was unreliable, especially for incoming calls, missed and not any indication of the call, sometimes rings many minutes later, completely dead, no connection...the outgoing calls were much more reliable, but, when you work on-call, not getting your calls is more than a bummer, it's B.S.
  • FYI: (from wikipedia) "On February 25, 2014, T-Mobile announced in their Q4 2013 earnings call that their 4G LTE network covers 209 million people in 273 metro areas. They also plan to start rolling out their 700 MHz A-Block spectrum by the end of 2014, which by the end of the roll out will cover 158 million people. This spectrum will lead to improved LTE coverage overall in these areas, particularly indoors." So, Apple did know far enough in advance (before production). also:
    "On March 13, 2014, T-Mobile announced a new plan to upgrade its entire 2G/EDGE network to 4G LTE. They expect 50% to be done by the end of 2014, and it to be "substantially complete" by the middle of 2015." source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-Mobile_US
  • You think February is well in advance for the entire process of a phone design? Lol ok Sent from the iMore App
  • IDK, yeah, I mean, they would not have ordered LTE chips yet, right? IDK, I guess I expect too much. I should have known something would mess with this switch, I've been waiting for T-Mobile to improve coverage, and now it is, but, there's this catch....
  • IDK, yeah, I mean, they would not have ordered LTE chips yet, right?
    Wrong. Even T-Mobile acknowledges that chipset decisions are made very early in a handset's development. The iPhone 6 was in development long before April.
  • but, what about apple adding a HSPA+ frequency to the iPhone 5 after it was only out about 6 months, so people could get this until T-Mobile got more LTE in place? Up until a short while before this, we all thought AT&T/T-Mobile merger would go through, but, once it didn't, Apple did this pretty quickly, then made the iPhone 5 available for T-Mobile. ...I mean, they had to know before we did that Band 12 would be implemented this year. It's just, there are good deals (from all the carriers) for iPhone 6 right now, and I want some of the features, and a slightly larger screen (I would have been happier w/4.3"). I'm not sure if I should wait or go for it. One guy commented elsewhere that he tried all the carriers and only Verizon LTE would work inside elevators...LTE uses other versions of the lower MHz, like band 12. It's so complicated. I often wonder why satellite phones never developed, I'd think they'd surpass cell towers in so many ways.
  • ok Peter, let me ask you this, do you know (ok if you don't), when T-Mobile upgrades cell towers from 2G/EDGE to LTE, are they also adding HSPA+ 3G(/4G)? (I hate that they call this 4G, 4G=LTE, it should have been called 3G+). Or will it only be either EDGE or LTE? ...I wish it was easier to find this information, but, the cell carriers are vague about everything. (BTW, I blame you for my hesitation to switch! ;o) I heard one of my first iMore podcasts where you mention this when going over iPhone 6).
  • I just switched to T-Mobile from Sprint with a new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and my experience has been fantastic. Call quality has been remarkably clear on T-Mobile's network compared to my iPhone 5s on Sprint. I don't know the technical reasons why, but calls just sound great. And my data is very fast. So am I disappointed? Not really. Everything functionally works great for me right now, especially compared to my Sprint service a month ago.
  • Could it be the better sound is due to the new phones?
  • T-Mobile also supports Apple's HD audio capability in the iPhone 5 & newer, Sprint's version is not supported.
  • If I remember correctly, T-Mobile implemented AMR-WB (adaptive multi-rate, wideband) for what they call HD Voice.
  • I can't find it on Apple's web right now, as, WiFi and VoLTE calling is the new way to do higher quality voice calls, and more networks are beginning to do this, but, in any case, T-Mobile was the first to support HD Voice, and AT&T followed over a year later, while the iPhone 5 was the first iPhone that could do this. ... here's something I found on it: http://www.idownloadblog.com/2012/09/13/sprint-verizon-att-no-iphone-5-h... ... also: http://appleinsider.com/articles/13/03/26/t-mobile-will-be-only-us-carri...
    It was used more outside of the US at launch.
  • no idea what this means but apparently sprint rolled out somethign called HD voice nationwide this year http://faster.sprint.com/2014/06/23/hd-voice-is-now-nationwide/
  • could be. I'm still on sprint but there's a big difference simply going from one phone to another. I barely got 3g in my apartment on my old iphone. I get LTE now in my apartment. Only change is the new phone. But my friend also has a nexus phone on sprint and he get's no LTE in my area or at his home about an hour drive away from me. I get LTE in both places with my iphone 6, most likely because my phone gets different bands including spark and his doesn't. I will say, voice to me sounded fine before but i'm not a big phone talker either so maybe i have low standards.
  • If it was a nexus 5 than his phone is Spark-capable... Nexus phones were notorius for spotty radios, though....
  • I don't think it was but honestly i'm not sure anymore now. He had a nexus phone. Maybe he bought a different one but i don't think so. But hell he had three phones at one time. All i know is he's on sprint, and he get's no LTE in my apartment and i do. But I know his phone does get LTE just not here because i've used it. Regardless i know for a time Sprint had a bunch of smartphones but not all worked on spark. But my area is well known for bad reception. I'm near a mountain and ocean. Like if you move east about 4 minutes drive you hit different towers and you get better service but it's still mediocre.
  • Also effects US Cellular as they have a significant stake in the 700 MHz block. They have dedicated their 850 MHz spectrum just to the iPhone so I will assume they want to branch out there as it will get (or is currently) bogged down. I used to be on US Cellular but left to Verizon after I got my iPad and wanted an iPhone. I live out in the country and Verizon is just ok (3 bars/dots and 1x where I live) so additional rural coverage whether it be Verizon, T-mobile or US cellular would be welcomed.
  • I just switched to T-Mobile from Verizon. While my twitter feed loads more slowly while I'm driving, I'm now able to make calls from my home, which is great. Even with Verizon this wasn't possible unless I stood in front of this one window in my laundry room. So, given that I'm on wifi 95% of my day anyway, I'm happier with this cheaper service. I'll be traveling soon, so maybe my early impressions will sour.
  • I would switch to T-Mo in a heartbeat but sadly, they tie with Sprint in my area for worst coverage. ATT isn't much better. I don't live in a big city but my area is very heavily populated to lack in coverage as much as it does by everyone other than Verizon.
  • I'm slightly disappointed that the new iPhone didn't get band 12 support, but I'm not even in an area where T-Mobile owns any 700A anyway. The big question mark is, how much can T-Mobile actually deploy with all the channel 51 TV stations on air? So does it really matter right now?
  • If I understand this stuff (and I likely don't) Apple is using the Qualcomm WTR1625L in the iPhone 6 which supports 40 LTE bands. So could we be a firmware flash away from gaining LTE band 12 support?
  • IDK about a firmware flash, but, perhaps it could be utilized in future production of the iPhone 6? I see a post about this chip, but, it doesn't list the specific bands. One thing I notice, that chip was designed in 2013 (what I'm reading is a press release from Feb 2013), and band 12 was not yet in use by any carrier, so, IDK?
  • I hope it can be updated with a firmware flash, but, I'm guessing not, as the iPhone 5 was not updateable, but, Apple updated it to work w/AWS for T-Mobile in spring '13: (can't add link to article, search macrumors dot com for this: "T-Mobile's iPhone 5 is a Tweaked Model A1428 Phone with AWS Support") I verified here, that my iPhone 5 is not compatible: (also can't add link to apple support article titled "T-Mobile USA: Understanding network compatibility of an unlocked iPhone 5")
  • " So could we be a firmware flash away from gaining LTE band 12 support?" Doubt it! Apple want to use this as leverage for people to buy the next model iPhone in September 2015! They will probably upgrade the firmware with the new iOs coming out in July maybe!
  • Wouldn't service be the same as on a iPhone 5s? Just that if the area supports band 12 you won't connect to that and just fall back on band 4? Which is still LTE. Updating the towers wouldn't take away functionality that was already there, it would just add to it and phones that support band 12 get the benefit while phones that don't stay the same? Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't know about this, I would think that it is either one or the other. There are so many LTE bands, I'm guessing they have to use different bands in different areas, for FCC or to keep from running into other carriers or some other government or military radio things? Plus, it seems to be taking long enough to get any LTE at all, just one band of it, you know? When I drive w/AT&T it's still 3G/4G at best in rural areas. Just one LTE band will be enough.
  • Yeah, I'm a bit disappointed that my iPhone 6 doesn't support LTE band 12, but right now it's not a huge deal as there isn't even any 700 MHz deployed in my area as far as I'm aware. And then there's that whole issue with channel 51 using that same frequency that'll have to be sorted out. I happen to live in one of those areas where the overlap with channel 51 is still a bit of a problem. So even tho I'm getting really sick & tired of having no signal inside of most buildings, I doubt that T-Mo's band 12 deployment would've made much difference in my area within the next year or so anyway, and I can live with it for now.
  • Understandable. But it still sucks. Hopefully next year when I get the iPhone 6S. Sent from the iMore App
  • Not sure if this related, but on my iPhone 5s, while on my drive to work I would get spotty service and sometimes drop the call in a specific 1/2 mile stretch. Now with my 6 plus, it's about a 5 mile stretch and I drop the call every time. Which is pretty annoying as I was always on the phone during this drive.
    But other than that everything has been great. Sent from the iMore App
  • My T-Mobile LTE is full everywhere in Florida so, I care less atm. Everything works great. Sent from the iMore App
  • My only question at this point is, when T-Mobile upgrades 2G/EDGE cell towers to LTE, do they also add HSPA+? If that is the case, then, where LTE ch 12 is implemented, I will get HSPA+, but, not 2G/EDGE, that would be acceptable, but if it's either LTE ch 12 or 2G/EDGE, that won't work for me. (Apologies, I haven't been able to find this information). My main concern is if Maps will work while traveling. With AT&T, when there is a signal in rural areas, it is usually at least 3G, which works fine w/Maps. (I also stream music, but, not a big deal to listen to podcasts or iPod.)
  • I had the 6 w/tmo, but the signal was quite bad (even tho their coverage maps said I was in a very good to excellent area.) I went from a Nokia e72 (yes, from 2009) on AT&T (since '99) will FULL bars most places I went, and was shocked at the poor signal of the NEW i6 and tmo. When I *did* get signal, 75% of my calls were warbled or dropped mid-call. I live between Philly/NYC/Balt., & not at all rural. Ugh! Took a trip and had to use my OLD Nokia (still on AT&T) to tether wifi to make my iPhone as usable as my old 4th gen iPod touch. Learning that the i6 does not have the new tmo band capability was the straw...that made me return the i6 and cancel tmo. I got the 5s on clearance at AT&T and my bill is only negligibly higher. (Signal better than t-mo, but still less than with my 5-y.o. Nokia, tho!) Yes, tmo offers unlimited data and some cool "perks" (free music streaming and international deals, etc), but if I don't get service, then all those "extras" are a moot point. Maybe in 2016, tmo....
  • Samsung Galaxy 5, Note 4 uses Category 6 LTE, and Nexus 5 uses Category 5. What does the iPhone 6 use? Category 4. The last two LTE categories are twice as fast as the iPhone 6. Clearly, Apple is continuously lagging behind in terms of their radios.
  • Wtf these reports need to be explained to T-Mobile staff so when one is interested in swapping cell companies information is out. T-Mobile has a lot of catching up to do from the reports it seems. . Sent from the iMore App
  • So based on the statement made by T-Mobile, I'm guessing that this isn't just a software block??
  • The only companies that can anticipated the LTE band 12 are Google's Nexus 6 and Sony's Xperia Z3 series smartphones. Apple is just not doing it for what ever reason. That the way the cookie crumbs. But the iPhone 6 still will work on T-Mobile; it just cannot get band 12 unless Apple decides to include the LTE band in a software upgrade to enable band 12! It does that about "5 minutes" for Apple engineer to add it in to the code however! LOL!
  • 45mbps down, 18mbps up on T-Mobile LTE with iPhone 6 Plus. That's more than the AVERAGE users in home wifi speeds. I also love the unlimited LTE data. Granted there are some locations where I feel I should have better service when I dont. However, in the Bay Area of California I am quite satisfied with my service. Let's also mention the support for Wi-Fi calling. Works wonders for me at work and to preserve battery life when I'm at home since wifi takes less battery. Voice and Data over LTE are enabled on my device as well. All in all as a user of their service at least for now I really don't care about band 12 atm.
  • This blows. My wife just got an i6, I didnt even think about it not working on Band 12. My 2 year old BB Z10 supports its, so I figured an new iPhone would. Unfortunately she's the one that needs it since she works out of town in MD, with spotty coverage and there's a new 700 tower that just went live a month ago in the area. Is it an absolute that it's not a software block. Has the iPhone been torn down yet to see exactly what's inside? Just holding out hope, I guess!