4G Fragmentation forces Apple to build 3 separate iPhones

Apple’s(s aapl) just released tech specs reveal it has decided to split the iPhone line into three separate devices, each targeted at different regions and carriers. That represents a significant break from tradition for Apple, which has always attempted to build a single device it could sell all over the world even if it meant excluding some big name operators.

Apple’s official iPhone 5 specs show two GSM models and one CDMA model, with the critical differences between them being which global LTE bands they support. As we’ve pointed out before, the huge number of global LTE bands means that Apple can no longer make a single device and expect to capture a majority of the world’s networks. So Apple is now following the same strategy as Samsung, Nokia(s nok) and other smartphone makers: tailoring its devices for specific carriers and markets.

Oddly the CDMA model appears to be the global version of the device. It not only has the support for the most LTE bands (including Japan, Korea’s and some of Europe’s 4G bands along with Verizon and Sprint(s s), it also has support for global GSM and HSPA+ frequencies.

The two GSM models aren’t just regionally focused, one is targeted specifically at AT&T. The LTE bands in one GSM version line up exactly with AT&T’s(s t) 4G networks, a configuration that no other operator in the world uses (though half of its bands will also support Canada’s LTE networks). The other GSM model appears to be targeted at Asian carriers, but has additional support for the 1800 MHz bands used by UK’s Everything Everywhere and a few other European operators. All of those bands are supported in the CDMA version, but Apple is likely looking to cut down on its radio components cost by targeting this phone specifically at particular regions.

What’s most surprising though is that Europe’s primary 4G frequency bands 2.6 GHz and 800 MHz aren’t supported in any of the three devices. That means that most European operators deploying LTE next year will have to wait for the next generation of the device to offer 4G services over the iPhone.

Here are the detailed specs if you want to interpret them for yourselves:

  • GSM model A1428*: UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 4 and 17)
  • CDMA model A1429*: CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1900, 2100 MHz); UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 1, 3, 5, 13, 25)
  • GSM model A1429*: UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 1, 3, 5)

The last time Apple did this was when it launched the CDMA version of the iPhone 4 for Verizon(s vz)(s vod), but shortly afterwards it combined both versions into a single global iPhone. But the implications of this strategy could have huge implications for the industry at large. If Apple has gotten over its reluctance to split the iPhone supply chain, it could mean it could start making iPhones for carriers it has previously ignored such as China Mobile(s chl), NTT DoCoMo(s dcm) and, yes, even T-Mobile.