UPDATE: I’ve put together a comparison chart highlighting the differences between carriers
I’ve been anxiously awaiting the launch of the next iPhone for some time now, but mostly so that I can leave my least favorite part of the iPhone 4S behind – AT&T.
Today’s announcement of the iPhone 5 was much anticipated and the design is exactly what the many rumors foretold. The device is longer – 4” vs. 3.5” – which gives it an aspect ratio of 16:9 and has a resolution of 1136x640. It’s got an integrated touch screen and display that allows it to be thinner and a higher quality display. It’s faster in a bunch of ways. No question it’s the best iPhone yet.
But how do you choose which carrier to go with? In the US we have three options – AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon. And whereas I don’t have a definite opinion on why you should choose any one of them I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that you shouldn’t go AT&T.
AT&T is the worst choice for the iPhone 5
Let’s address the hardware first. While Apple didn’t expressly say it in their keynote, there will be three different iPhone 5’s – the devices will be compatible with US GSM, Europe GSM, or US CDMA. Translating very loosely that means AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, and other European carriers.
Digging in a little bit, I noticed that the cellular radios that each used were very different. Apple has these details on their iPhone 5 Tech Specs page but here’s the breakdown:
AT&T – GSM model A1428*: UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 4 and 17)
Verizon & Sprint – CDMA model A1429*: CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1900, 2100 MHz); UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 1, 3, 5, 13, 25)
European – GSM model A1429*: UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 1, 3, 5)
Notice that the LTE bands that the CDMA model and European GSM model support, specifically bands 1, 3, and 5. The CDMA model adds bands 13 and 25 to the mix – these are Verizon’s 700MHz band and Sprint’s 1900MHz bands. The AT&T GSM model uses bands 4 and 17 which are AT&T’s proprietary LTE bands, but the clear omission is the bands 1, 3, and 5.
Band 1 – Support in Asia, Europe, Israel, Japan
Band 3 – Finland, Germany, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Poland, Singapore, South Korea
Band 5 – Americas, South Korea, Israel
Bands 4 and 17 which the AT&T version of the phone support gets you theoretical compatibility in the US, Canada, and Latin America. A significant difference.
Off the bat the AT&T iPhone has significantly less world support for being a “world phone.”
Apple points out on their own site what the specific carrier compatibility here which makes it seem like the European version of the iPhone 5 clearly outpaces the US counterparts. But the one thing to note about this is that the hardware itself supports the bands, so the reduction in compatibility has more to do with software than anything else at that point.
With iOS 6, Apple has added the capability for iPhones to do FaceTime over cellular connections. This is huge – especially for the hearing impaired population. As reported earlier AT&T is outright blocking FaceTime over cellular connections unless you pay them an arm and a leg for their newfangled “Shared Data” plans. First off this is ridiculous because there’s nothing technically different about the shared data plans that add compatibility. This is about AT&T being greedy and trying to take more money for the same functionality.
Verizon hasn’t provided an explicit answer to if they’re going to be supporting FaceTime over cellular but I’ll put my bet on the fact that they’ll allow it because they’ve historically been less stingy about what goes over their data pipes.
Simultaneous Voice & Data
My biggest reason for never going to Verizon prior to the iPhone 5 is because the CDMA band that Verizon uses doesn’t support simultaneous voice & data. Essentially this means that I wouldn’t be able to surf the web, look at maps, etc. while I happen to be on a call. It’s also a big deal for people that work remotely sometimes and use data tethering. Because I use these features a lot it was always a deal-breaker.
Now with LTE, Verizon’s networks are able to support simultaneous voice & data – removing the previous restriction.
UPDATE: We’ve now got confirmation from Verizon that simultaneous voice & data is supported by Verizon on their LTE network.
UPDATE 2: Looks like this may not exactly be cut and dried. Here’s another blog post detailing why.
Coverage and speed
Verizon was much quicker to the LTE game than AT&T and it seems like AT&T has been struggling to keep up with Verizon’s breadth of coverage. Even some speed tests prove that Verizon’s network is quite a bit faster than AT&T’s.
While I can’t seem to find the original report that I’d seen on the additional amount of dollars going into the infrastructure – Verizon is outspending AT&T in this area as well which bodes well for customers that will be using their LTE network.
They just suck
Beyond all of that I just have a personal hatred for AT&T. I’ve been a customer of theirs for 12 years now and in recent years I’ve been extremely disappointed in many things – price gouging, charging for features that shouldn’t be charged for (see FaceTime and tethering), and many more. Frankly I’m very excited to longer be a customer of theirs – no matter the price I’ll have to pay to terminate contract.
I’ll also start this as part of a discussion at Branch too. It’s embedded below as well.