How do operators get approved?

Apple’s decision to vet operators’ networks for LTE performance before allowing the iPhone 5 to function as an LTE device is likely to hit smaller, unaffiliated operators hardest, according to Dimitris Mavrakis, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

“Apple would not do this to the tier one players,” Mavrakis told Telecoms.com. “But for smaller operators, or European players with a limited subscriber base, Apple has the audacity to do this and I’m not sure all operators will even make it to the testing phase.”

The experience of Jafar Asimov, head of the automation department at Tajikistani operator Babilon-Mobile, supports Mavrakis’ observation. Asimov told Telecoms.com that he’d been trying to get in touch with Apple technical support; Apple customer relations; and the Apple procurement team in a bid to get his LTE network approved by the handset vendor, but to no avail.

Babilon, which leads the Tajikistani market with three million subscribers at the end of September, activated its LTE network in October after re-farming 2G spectrum in the 900MHz and 1800MHz bands for 4G. But the operator only realised there was a problem with Apple’s latest smarpthone when iPhone 5 owners began complaining that LTE connectivity was not working on their device.

Mobile operators in Tajikistan do not subsidise handsets, Asimov, said, so users often bring their own. He told Telecoms.com that it was only when he got iPhone 5 handsets in for testing, that he discovered there was no way of activating LTE connectivity without Apple’s intervention.

“There is no information available about activating LTE,” he said. “We got no help and no response from Apple on this.”

Asimov said he believes that Apple activates LTE by running a whitelist of approved networks.

“According to our research, the iPhone 5 talks to a server at Apple, which keeps a list of approved PLMN (public land mobile network) codes,” Asimov said. Every operating network has a PLMN administered by the country’s regulator. It is a unique code identifying the operator. If the code is present in the database when the device comes online, then an LTE switch magically appears in the iPhone settings panel, he said.

“We have the network, we have a reasonable subscriber base, and we are eager to provide our customers using iPhone5 the best experience using our fast and reliable high speed internet access,” said Asimov.


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