RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Apple unveiled a new version of the iPhone yesterday. The iPhone 5 is thinner and faster than its predecessors. And it joins a tiny handful of new smartphones that run on the super fast LTE network.
To learn more about the wireless networks that are a crucial part of the smartphone experience, we reached Rich Jaroslovsky. He's a technology columnist for Bloomberg News and speaks to us often.
RICH JAROSLOVSKY: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: First of all, tell us about LTE - what it stand for, and how fast it really is.
JAROSLOVSKY: Well, LTE stands for Long Term Evolution. And what it is is a variant of the general technology known as 4G, and it is really fast. If you've used 3G smartphone and you go to a 4G LTE phone, it's very different. It can be 15, 20 times faster in terms of downloading and rendering web pages.
MONTAGNE: And the iPhone 5, this new one, is not the only smartphone out there that runs on LTE, right?
JAROSLOVSKY: No. There have been a number that have come out. There are a number of android phones that are already out that run on the LTE network, so the carriers. But the big thing is that the iPhone 5 has a substantially or battery life - if it delivers on its claims - than the previous phones that have been out there. The LTE networks do tend to hog battery life quite a bit.
MONTAGNE: And what about hogging - or rather, burdening - bandwidth? That is, is there enough bandwidth on the LTE network to accommodate a bunch of new iPhone 5 users? And you know there are going to be a bunch of new iPhone 5 users.
JAROSLOVSKY: Well, we're about to find out. One of the reasons the LTE network is so fast - besides the fact that the technology is much faster - is that there haven't been that many users on these networks. We're now about to get a whole large slug of new users coming on to them. And so things may well slow down a little bit from where they have been, but they'll still probably be very much faster than the existing 3G networks.
MONTAGNE: And cost? I mean speed doesn't necessarily come cheap.
JAROSLOVSKY: It doesn't. But the real issue on the cost probably isn't the actual rates that the carriers will charge, but the fact that when you have that much bandwidth and that much speed you tend to do a lot more things. So the real risk in terms of your pocketbook is probably that you use up a lot more bandwidth because you're visiting more web pages, you're doing more things like video calling over the cellular network, which Apple is enabling with the iPhone 5, and you end up using a lot more bandwidth than you think you are and then the bill comes.
MONTAGNE: What, you think it might encourage more people to do more?
JAROSLOVSKY: I think that's exactly what we'll see. The data plans are the same for the iPhone and for the Android phones, but we've seen already that iPhone users tend to use a lot more data than Android users, so that's going to, sort of, enter into the calculation as to which carrier to choose.
Sprint, for example, has a truly unlimited data plan. The problem there is that Sprint has only just begun to roll out its LTE network and it isn't in most of the country. Verizon and AT&T are more advanced in terms of their deployment. Verizon is in many more markets than AT&T.
MONTAGNE: Rich, you mentioned coverage. What networks would be more capable of handling these high-speed phones?
JAROSLOVSKY: Well, I've spent a lot of time on both the Verizon and AT&T LTE networks, and I've found that they are very comparable in terms of speed, in terms of, you know, how quickly things move on them. The big difference is that Verizon is in many more places than AT&T is, and for a buyer, it probably doesn't make sense to buy one of these whiz-bang, super fast phones if you don't have the network in your area that will allow you to take advantage of it.
MONTAGNE: Rich, thanks very much.
JAROSLOVSKY: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Rich Jaroslovsky is a technology columnist for Bloomberg News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.