by Colin Berkshire

Colin here.

One of the more unfortunate cell phone compatibility issues were going to have to live with for the next decade is TD-LTE. It is the “TD” part that makes it different.

The world came very close to having a single LTE standard that all countries would share. By converging CDMA and GSM into an LTE standard it would be possible for telephones to work globally. The only difference would be the frequencies they operated on, and most LTE chipsets are agile enough to talk on any frequency.

Alas, along came China with a technically in compatible version of LTE called TD-LTE. It’s a different enough technology but it simply is not compatible with non-TD technology. Yes, it’s superior. But, it really would have been nice if the priority have been placed on global compatibility.

If you look at the recently announced Apple iPhone 6 you will gain a good insight into the polarization that’s happening between traditional LTE and TD-LTE. (

Apple is making three models of the iPhone 6. One model is for US Verizon. One model is for the rest of North America. The last model is for the rest of the world. Ouch, people who buy the American versions of the iPhone are largely going to be excluded from overseas LTE usage.

I think one observation is in order: I can’t see why anybody would want to purchase the AT&T version of the iPhone 6. The Verizon version does everything that the AT&T one can, plus it’s unlocked, plus it works on the Verizon network. It cost no more. Why wouldn’t you buy it? Buy the Verizon version and you can use it on Verizon, T-Mobile, or AT&T, and you don’t even have to ask for it to be unlocked. Is this an IQ test?

Sprint users should also be aware. While Sprint has vowed that starting early next year all of the phones they sell will be unlockable, that doesn’t mean that the phones will be usable. When Sprint purchased clear wire they inherited a large WiMAX network. Nokia is offering an upgrade path for WiMAX to the TD-LTE standard. That is, to an LTE standard it’s not compatible with Verizon, T-Mobile, or AT&T. This will create a natural affinity for the Sprint network to other Asian users, especially those in Japan. But Sprint customers will have a difficult time migrating to any other US carrier.

It’s a shame that the LTE technology has fragmented in an incompatible way, splitting the world forever. Well, one can always hope that when the CDMA networks are all retired perhaps QUALCOMM will have a chipset they can do both traditional LTE and TD-LTE at the same time.