iPhone 5 not currently compatible for non-EE 4G networks
14 Sep 2012
Vodafone and O2 allocating a different spectrum for 4G
This gets a little technical, but the bottom line is that the new iPhone 5, as it stands, will not work on the forthcoming 4G networks of either Vodafone or O2.
So, if you buy yourself an iPhone 5 on either of those networks, expecting to simply jump on the 4G network when they finally roll out a service, you are likely to be very disappointed.
The issue is a technical one - and one that Apple can't really be blamed for. EE has created a 4G network by reassigning some of its old 2G allocation on the 1800MHz band. That's one of the frequencies Apple is using for its iPhone 5, which isn't the same frequency O2 and Vodafone will be using. So there is a discrepancy that will impact on customers.
But that's unlikely to be the end of the story. Both Vodafone and O2 will be investing heavily in 4G and will want the iPhone as part of its range when they do eventually launch. In the US, there has been a workaround in the past, with Apple building network-specific handsets. Whether it is willing to do this for the UK market isn't clear, but it would seem odd and would be frustrating if it didn't.
The problem for customers of Vodafone and O2 is whether to buy now to keep updated or wait until a 4G model arrives. If indeed, it ever does. The networks might make it easy to upgrade between the two, although that is purely speculation. If the networks don't allow easy upgrades, they could have a lot of angry customers at some point next year.
Not that any of this applies to Three customers. The company has bought a part of the EE network, so 4G should be possible if you grab an iPhone with it.