Review by Michael Oryl on Thursday October 20, 2011.
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The industry as a whole was caught off guard when small regional carrier C Spire Wireless (formerly Cellular South) announced that it would offer the coveted Apple iPhone 4S "in the coming weeks." Now everybody is speculating as to why T-Mobile was passed over. The answer seems obvious: AWS.
T-Mobile's 3G/4G network relies on the AWS frequency band pairing that operates on 1700 and 2100MHz spectrum. This spectrum pairing is not supported by the iPhone 4S, even though the 850 and 1900MHz bands that T-Mobile uses for 2G GSM connections work just fine on the iPhone 4S (and previous iPhone models).
C Spire, on the other hand, operates a CDMA network that uses the same network bands as Verizon Wireless and Sprint, and its network is therefore supported by the iPhone 4S right out of the box. No modifications needed.
So why T-Mobile was passed over is no mystery at all. The iPhone 4S simply doesn't support the number four carrier's network, and Apple appears to have made it clear that it doesn't want separate versions of the device for differing networks. While the iPhone 4 had separate CDMA and GSM/UMTS versions, the 4S does it all. That's already an engineering feat. Adding more to the mix for a lone, smallish carrier probably isn't worth the effort, and possibly just couldn't be done effectively.
The real question here is why C Spire got the iPhone and not one of the larger second tier carriers in the country. MetroPCS would seem an obvious choice at first, but its CDMA network makes use of the AWS bands and is not compatible with the iPhone 4S. MetroPCS's network also lacks 3G data, though it does have LTE 4G in a few markets. Cricket and U.S. Cellular seem to be good matches, though, with compatible networks and 8 or more times the number of subscribers than C Spire.
Perhaps it is just a matter of time before those two carriers make iPhone announcements, or perhaps Apple feels there are already enough carriers offering the iPhone in the markets these smaller carriers cover. Time will tell, perhaps.