New iPhone could test Chicago's LTE networks

September 24, 2012

Quinn Ford and the Associated Press

(Flickr/Damon Taylor)

Apple Inc. announced Monday it had sold more than 5 million iPhone 5s in just over three days. Although that figure falls short of what analysts expected, experts say it could provide a test for LTE wireless networks around the country, including Chicago.

LTE is a type of 4G network and considered the fastest way to transmit data to phones and other wireless devices. The iPhone 5 is the first iPhone with the ability to connect to LTE networks in the U.S., Canada and a few other countries.

Julie Dey is the vice president of marketing at RootMetrics, a company that collects mobile phone performance data. Dey said the iPhone 5 could test the capacity of LTE networks over the next few months, despite the fact the first LTE phones hit the market about a year and a half ago.

“Right now, there aren’t a ton of folks that are using LTE. Only about 10 percent of smart phones available today are in use on an LTE market, so what we’re doing is potentially doubling the amount of people using that type of network,” Dey said. “What will be interesting to see is whether or not these networks can handle capacity of all of these new users at once.”

Dey said more users could potentially lead to slower download times, something that 3G smartphone users may have experienced especially in crowded places.

Dey said the major carriers have taken steps to improve data networks in Chicago.

“What we’ve found in Chicago is very competitive to what we see across the country for the four major national carriers,” Dey said. “We’ve seen a lot of investment from Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and even Sprint to upgrade their networks in that area.”

Currently, both Verizon Wireless and AT&T have LTE networks in the Chicago area. Sprint Nextel has announced plans to roll out their own LTE network by the end of the year. T-Mobile uses a different type of network called HSPA+, but has also announced plans to invest in LTE nationwide.