Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who is much more often right about these things than not, has doubled-down on his earlier prediction with a follow-up research note seen by MacRumors clearly stating that Apple is still on track to release both its sub-6GHz and mmWave-capable models simultaneously in the second half of 2020.
Kuo originally predicted that Apple would be launching all of its 5G-capable 2020 iPhone models with the baseline sub-6GHz technology that’s used by most carriers, but that models released in the United States, Canada, Japan, Korea, and the United Kingdom would also include the necessary antennas and hardware for the considerably faster mmWave technology.
However, a dissenting analysis last week from Mehdi Hosseini of Susquehanna suggested that Apple was struggling to develop its own “Antenna-in-Package” (AiP) modules for mmWave iPhones — a technology which requires more sophisticated antenna designs — which could result in these models not being ready until early 2021.
According to Kuo, however, Apple should have both versions ready for a September launch, with shipments expected to begin in the “late third quarter” or “early fourth quarter.” This presumably refers to calendar quarters, which would mean a September–October timeframe, rather than Apple’s fiscal quarters, which run from October to the following September rather than January to December.
Sub-6GHz vs mmWave
In reality, it’s the sub-6GHz iPhone that’s the most important here anyway, since this is the version of 5G that’s being most widely deployed by carriers around the world. While sub-6GHz frequencies offer the best range and building penetration, mmWave is significantly faster — easily offering speeds well upwards of 1 Gbps — but also requires you to be within a few hundred metres of an mmWave transceiver.
So it’s understandable that for most carriers, it’s the sub-6GHz range that they’re focusing on first. T-Mobile now boasts a nationwide 5G network that’s based entirely on the 600 MHz spectrum, while the few carriers like AT&T and Verizon that are offering mmWave only have it available in small pockets in the core of major cities, and in many cases only for business customers.
So with carriers only beginning to deploy these faster 5G networks it’s hard to say how useful an mmWave-capable iPhone will even be when it launches this fall, but mmWave support will certainly be a selling point for users who want to ensure that their new iPhones are ready for the faster networks when they actually do arrive.
We still remain skeptical that most iPhone users will notice the difference between sub-6GHz speeds, which can easily peak at 500 Mbps, and the faster 1 Gbps+ mmWave speeds. The law of diminishing returns is at work here. However, once widely deployed, mmWave networks are likely to offer other advantages beyond raw speed, such as lower interference and less congestion, due to the use of frequency ranges above 24 GHz, which are devoid of other signals like television, radio, and communications, and the higher number of transceivers required to properly deploy mmWave, which should provide much better signal quality and reliability in places where congestion is often a problem, such as stadiums, malls, and convention centres.