I've been pondering Apple's rather complex implementation of LTE for the past few days. As has been widely observed, it's chosen not to implement the LTE bands (800MHz and 2600MHz) that the majority of European operators are planning to deploy in 2013 and 2014 (and which Vodafone Germany, Telia and a few others actually do have running now), focusing instead on the 1800MHz band that EE in the UK and T-Mobile in Germany actually have running in 2012, along with 2100 for Japan and 850 for Korea all in one 'RoW' handset. This then sits beside two US-focused handsets, reflecting the act that LTE is further ahead in the US than elsewhere (DoCoMo has 5m LTE subs but doesn't carry the iPhone).
This seems like a deeply pragmatic decision: support the LTE networks that are actually running (EE, DT, SKT Softbank plus the Americans etc) rather than the ones that will be running in 12 months. It also suggests that when Apple refreshes the line this time next year, we might see a different set of variants with a different mix of bands. A model with 800, 1800 and perhaps 2600 would seem very likely in late 2013.
On the other hand, there will be some disgruntled users in a year's time when the other European operators launch LTE at 800 and iPhone 5 owners discover that their 'LTE' phone can't use these new networks.
Meanwhile the fact that Apple has split the line into no less than three separate models suggests that it might make more. This reinforces speculation that it will make a further model for China, implementing TD-LTE (and possibly even TD-SCDMA) on the right frequencies to support China Mobile, which has 65% of the market (680m users) and on whose network previous iPhones could not run at 3G speeds. This is probably now a commercial rather than technical decision.
But what does this mean for real consumers? Much like 3G before it, there's a big difference between the headline data rate of LTE and what real users will experience. That '100 megs!' number includes signalling and over head and will never be experienced at a user application level. When you then factor in the amount of spectrum that European operators are actually using, likely congestion and the effect of things like the distance you're standing from the base station, real world LTE speeds in 2013 in Europe will probably be in the 10-15 mbit/sec range. Of course if you stand in the right place on an empty network you'll get rather more.
Meanwhile, Apple has also included DC-HSPA in the iPhone, one of the latest improvements to 3G. Rather like HSCSD a decade ago, this increases user speeds by letting them use more of the network. Real world speeds? 10-15 mbits/sec. Who's deploying it? Nice chart from Apple:
(This list is incomplete. )
Of course, LTE is more efficient than DC-HSPA and over time LTE speeds (with new handsets) will improve substantially. But today, differences in coverage and congestion will create bigger differences.
In other words, rather more iPhone 5 customers will have DC-HSPA than LTE, and they'll probably not notice the difference.