Back in October a chum of the Informer’s from one of the big infrastructure vendors told him that Apple was auditing LTE networks before allowing operators to offer the iPhone 5 as an LTE device. The Informer made a few calls to people in the know and was told the story was true, although Apple maintained a stony silence and nobody else, operator or vendor, would go on the record.
This week Swisscom launched the first LTE service in Switzerland and mentioned in its press release that the iPhone 5 would not be available at launch but that “ Apple will provide a software update in due course for customers with an iPhone 5.”
When asked why the software update was required, a Swisscom spokesperson told Telecoms.com that: “The iPhone 5 requires a software update since Apple only enables 4G access after having successfully tested their device on an operator’s live network.”
And there you have it, the first operator to publicly admit that it is Apple that decides whether or not that operator’s customers can use its devices over the LTE network, and not the operator. This is a big deal.
Handset testing has always been crucial but the aim of it historically has been to ensure that devices meet network operators’ requirements and will function in a way that does no harm to the network or to the relationship between the operator and its customer. Now Apple has turned the tables, judging whether the network is good enough for the handset, and that the network won’t damage Apple’s customer experience. (This from a company who told people they were holding their phones the wrong way because the antenna was dodgy.)
It has been observed that we live in a time when the network, despite being by far the most expensive piece of the mobile experience, has the lowest perceived value (compared, say, to the handset or the app) in the eyes of the end user. So you could look on the upside and say that Apple is reinforcing the importance of the network by running its own testing programmes. And Apple will find it harder to shift the blame for any problems onto the operators if it has given them its stamp of approval.
But equally you could argue, as many surely will, that this is something of a presumption from a company that contributes nothing to the cost of network deployment. What we don’t know, of course, is how many—if any—operators’ LTE networks have been rejected by Apple. Nobody’s going to ‘fess up to that, are they.