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Four big takeaways from Apple's 5G iPhone launch

Apple took the wraps off its new iPhones on Tuesday, and the company gave 5G a starring role during the unveiling.

What happens next is anyone's guess. Will the presence of 5G drive Apple fans toward the new gadget? Or will pandemic-inspired economic uncertainty – coupled with a decided dearth of only-on-5G applications – drag down Apple's iPhone business?

As answers to these questions emerge over the coming months, here are a few important takeaways from Apple's latest unveiling:

1. Apple won't levy a mmWave tax

Unlike Samsung and several other smartphone vendors, Apple won't charge extra for the millimeter wave (mmWave) version of its 5G iPhones. And it will include low-, mid- and highband 5G capabilities across its entire new iPhone lineup: iPhone 12 (starting at $799); iPhone 12 mini (starting at $699); iPhone 12 Pro (starting at $999); iPhone 12 Pro Max (starting at $1,099).

Further, Apple loudly touted the benefits of 5G transmissions via mmWave spectrum, promising peak speeds of up to 4Gbit/s. That's noteworthy considering mmWave 5G signals are only available in select areas of a few dozen US cities, due to the limited propagation of transmissions in mmWave spectrum bands.

Curiously, Apple also boasted of mmWave 5G in crowded venues like football stadiums – locations that haven't seen much traffic this year due to the pandemic.

Moreover, 5G in mmWave spectrum is, so far, mostly a US phenomena, although operators in countries such as Russia and South Korea are expected to join the mmWave bandwagon in the coming months.

2. The iPhone 12 could spark a price war in the US

Minutes after Apple's event ended, AT&T said that it would offer a free iPhone 12 to new and existing customers if they trade in their existing device – though there are plenty of caveats to the offer. Verizon appears to offer a similar promotion around the gadget, but so far T-Mobile has remained silent on the topic.

According to one financial analyst, T-Mobile officials are cautioning "patience" on whether the company will respond with its own iPhone-themed promotion. It would certainly make sense for the company to do so, given its hefty investment into its blooming 5G network.

Nonetheless, the stage is certainly set for an all-out battle among the nation's three big remaining wireless network operators over Apple fans looking for a taste of 5G.

3. Verizon gets the Apple love

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg played a starring role in Apple's iPhone 12 unveiling, joining Tim Cook to explain the benefits of 5G in millimeter-wave spectrum. He also used the opportunity to announce the launch of Verizon's nationwide 5G service using Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), a launch that Vestberg had previously hinted at.

And though Apple executives made it clear that the company would tailor its iPhones for 5G networks around the world, Verizon's name and brand was repeatedly cited by a number of Apple executives during the company's presentation.

Verizon's role in Apple's event undoubtedly stirred dismay among executives at rivals AT&T and T-Mobile.

4. 5G needs some adult supervision

While Apple used its event to talk up the benefits of the speed and latency available on 5G, the company also announced a new feature apparently designed to save its users from the pitfalls of 5G.

Apple said its new "smart data mode" would ensure that its customers stay on a 4G connection most of the time in order to save battery life, but that they would be bumped up to a 5G connection where available on the occasions they need faster connections.

To be clear, the wireless industry is working to implement similar battery-saving technologies via the latest version of the 3GPP's 5G standard. But Apple's acknowledgement of the issue nonetheless casts a shadow over its embrace of 5G.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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