Apple Vets Carriers For 4G Performance Before Allowing iPhone 5 To Be Sold As An LTE Device

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Apple wants to ensure that customer experience with its iPhone 5 lives up to what the company is promising, and it will take strong measures to do so, including telling carriers when they can and can’t make the phone’s LTE capabilities available to subscribers. Generally speaking, carriers test to ensure devices meet their own network standards, but Apple seems to be in a strong enough position to be able to reverse that relationship.

A new report from Telecoms.com says that a spokesperson for operator Swisscom had confirmed earlier claims that Apple only flips on 4G LTE access on the iPhone 5 once the network has passed a number of stringent live tests. Swisscom launched its LTE network this week, but wasn’t able to make the iPhone 5 an LTE device right away, since Apple still has to test and then issue a carrier update setting. This report was backed up by an earlier claim from NorthStream founder and CEO Bengt Nordstrom, who had heard about the same policy separately, according to Telecoms.com.

Devices typically undergo carrier testing, to ensure it meets their standards. RIM is a good recent example; the smartphone maker has recently been promoting the fact that its BB10 devices are in the process of being carrier-tested at the moment. But Apple has a special relationship with carriers, once it has built carefully over the years, beginning with the exclusivity contract it arranged with AT&T at the iPhone’s original launch, which saw the device come to the network without any carrier branding, and without any pre-loaded carrier software.

Apple has effectively changed the balance of power when it comes to carrier/OEM relationships, and this is just another example of how much influence it wields. And for good reason: no other device manufacturer, with the exception now maybe of Samsung, exerts as much influence on a carrier’s fortunes. That’s why Sprint accepted a deal that meant it wouldn’t turn a profit on iPhone until 2015, according to CEO Dan Hesse, for instance.

In the end, this policy has a net benefit effect for Apple’s brand and for consumers, since it ensures a more consistent experience across iPhone 5 users, regardless of network choice. It might not be something that sits well with carriers, but for the foreseeable future, it’s an arrangement that Apple likely has sufficient influence to keep in place.