Debunking the iPhone 6's 150 Mbps LTE

Ever since the iPhone 6 launch earlier this week, people have been asking me about the 20-band LTE with Carrier Aggregation that Apple has been touting. Is this similar to what Speedify does in letting you combine connections from different carriers together?  Would it help you stream pictures and video faster from, say the Apple launch event itself?

LTE in a Nutshell

LTE stands for Long Term Evolution. It has become the standard for 4G voice and data, and almost every mobile operator in the world has embraced it (since WiMAX failed to take off). Part of why LTE has become so popular with carriers is that it’s an incredibly flexible standard. Mobile providers have a huge numbers of choices about their configuration. And, while different countries have different “bands,” or blocks of frequencies for mobile, LTE can use all of them.

So, the iPhone 6’s “20-band LTE” feature means the hardware in Apple’s new smartphone can tune to any of 20 different sets of frequencies. It works with more mobile operators around the world than any other phone in existence. In that sense, the iPhone 6 is a truly global phone.

What “Carrier Aggregation” Really Means

The “Carrier Aggregation” bit might not be quite what it sounds like. In the context of LTE, a “carrier” is not Verizon, Orange, EE, or AT&T. In the LTE standard, a carrier is just a signal on a single frequency. Depending on how the network has been setup, carriers can be 1.4, 3, 5,10,15 or 20 MHz wide (wider is faster).

So, LTE Carrier Aggregation lets a device that’s connected to a not-so-busy cell tower get a wider signal by grabbing a couple carriers that are near each other. As your device gets more carriers, you get to use them in parallel, enjoying the sum of their bandwidth.

Speeds to Expect from Your iPhone 6

When Apple says, “speeds up to 150 Mbps,” their published limit depends on quite a lot of factors leaning in your favor. First, you’ve got to be close to a cell tower with a good signal. Next, there have to be a lot of free carriers, which means almost no one else can be using the same tower. And, finally the phone company has to configure their towers to let one user grab all that bandwidth in the first place. Sadly, Sprint has already admitted that their LTE Carrier Aggregation is not going to work with the iPhone 6. Together, this means that you won’t ever see the 150 Mbps speed (which is probably good, because you’d zip through your family’s 10GB monthly data cap in under 9 minutes!).

Taking all that into consideration, it’s unlikely that the iPhone 6’s LTE Carrier Aggregation will help you stream video from future Apple launch events. You’re mistaken if you think the towers in Cupertino will be able to give up extra carriers while they’re already being crushed by hundreds of bloggers, journalists, and onlookers.

Channel Bonding is the Real Deal

So, what if you do need faster streaming video during the next Apple launch event?  Your only chance is to bond channels from different carriers, so you can keep going even if none of them are fast, or if one of them flakes out. This is where a network bonding solution like Speedify comes in. Speedify bonds devices that connect to Verizon, T-Mobile, and Xfinity into a single fast internet connection. Once you connect on each device, the app divides your Internet traffic between them based on how well they’re working.

So, while I like the direction Apple is going in with the iPhone 6’s carrier aggregation feature, ultimately the real big win for users will be the ability to aggregate the 4G LTE connection from the iPhone with any available WiFi network for a speed boost you can really feel.