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Apple Joins 5G Fray iPhone 12 Launch, Carriers Jockey for Position

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Apple has finally entered the 5G arena with the launch Tuesday of its new iPhone 12 line. The base iPhone 12 and premium iPhone Pro will ship next week. A smaller iPhone 12 mini and large iPhone Pro Max will ship Nov. 13.

Apple says all four models are compatible with 5G networks in most of the frequencies deployed in the U.S. Apple is the last of the major device providers to offer a 5G-compatible phone.

Apple's Tim Cook at iPhone 12 5G event on Oct. 13, 2020

Apple’s Tim Cook at iPhone 12 5G event on Oct. 13, 2020

“This is a huge moment for all of us,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said during Tuesday’s virtual launch event. “5G will bring a new level of performance for downloads and uploads, higher quality video streaming, more responsive gaming, real-time interactivity and so much more.”

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg used the launch to announce that its 5G network is now available in major U.S. markets. Vestberg was the only carrier executive or third-party partner to appear on stage at Apple’s virtual launch event.

“Until now, most people have taken a wait and see approach to 5G,” Vestberg said. “They’ve been waiting for 5G to get real with network coverage they expect [and] the incredible performance they have been promised. Today, with iPhone, the wait is over. 5G just got real.”

Verizon said its Ultra Wideband 5G service is available in 55 U.S. cities, 43 sports facilities and 7 airports. Rivals AT&T and T-Mobile already launched their nationwide 5G networks, through coverage remains scattered in all markets, among the carriers. Verizon announced it will offer iPhones that could be free to new customers trading in existing devices. For existing customers trading in their devices, the carrier could offer iPhones as low as $15 per month.

Carriers Jockey for 5G Position

Besides Verizon, AT&T is the only other U.S. carrier so far Apple has announced as a carrier for the new iPhone. AT&T on Tuesday announced that new and existing customers will be eligible for iPhone 12s with trade-ins. As of Tuesday evening, T-Mobile hadn’t announced its iPhone 12 promotions, nor did Apple list the carrier on its website.

But speaking on CNBC, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert insisted that the carrier will offer better promotions than AT&T or Verizon.

“They don’t have our promotions loaded yet,” Sievert said. “We’re aggressive. We’re 40% less than the other guys. And there’s a reason for that. We’re showcasing that today is the firing gun on 5G.”

Sievert emphasized that T-Mobile, thanks to its acquisition of Sprint, has low band, midband and millimeter wave coverage.

“Verizon talked today about millimeter wave for a reason,” Sievert said. “They’re talking out of their butt. It’s all they’ve got. They don’t have a midband strategy; who knows what they’re going to have to do to get a midband strategy. But I think they know that’s where the real 5G game will be played over the next decade.”

Indeed, Verizon is at a disadvantage when it comes to 5G, said TECHnalysis Research principal analyst Bob O’Donnell. “Their mmWave service is only available over a few blocks in each of the cities they mentioned — not at all across the entire city,” O’Donnell said. “Plus, the launch of their ‘nationwide’ service is using a technology called DSS (Dynamic Spectrum Sharing), which just reuses a portion of 4G signals to carry 5G, so real-world performance is going to be no different, which will be disappointing to many people.”

Experts say it could be years before 5G service becomes ubiquitous. Apple introduced various enhancements to the new line beyond 5G capability. Among them, the new iPhones:

  • Have Apple’s new A14 Bionic chipset with CPU, GPU and 16-core Neural Engine, which Apple claims will offer an 80% performance boost.
  • Include a dual-camera system with enhanced quality video in a smartphone using Apple’s Smart HDR 3 that uses machine learning to automatically adjust white balance, contrast, texture and saturation.
  • Introduce Apple’s new MagSafe wireless charging capability. MagSafe includes magnets around the wireless charging coil, which aim to ensure more reliable charging.

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