Exclusive: iPhone 12 faces delays, with faster 5G limited to key countries

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iPhone 12 might mix iPhone 11 and iPad Pro designs
Prepare for iPhone 12 delays and confusion.
Photo: Ben Geskin

A number of iPhone 12 models currently face delays and may not become available in key markets until later in the year, a trusted source familiar with Apple’s plans revealed to Cult of Mac.

Options also could be limited in the United States and in other countries, where faster mmWave 5G technology is available. Elsewhere, customers may have a complete iPhone 12 lineup to choose from, but with slower 5G technology, according to the source.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has placed question marks on whether Apple’s next-generation iPhone lineup will arrive on time. Many reliable sources remain confident that Apple plans to launch new phones in September, as is traditional.

It seems, however, that the options on what models are available could be limited in places, and the wait to actually get a new iPhone may be longer than the typical one week. Here’s what we understand the situation to be as things stand right now.

iPhone 12 delayed

In line with recent reports, the source told Cult of Mac that Apple is currently planning to offer four iPhone 12 models: One will feature a 5.4-inch display; two will feature 6.1-inch displays; the fourth will feature a 6.7-inch display — the biggest yet for an iPhone.

The source reports each of these models will come in two variants, designed for different 5G standards. Most markets may see all four models at the same time, with Apple currently hoping to ship in late October.

This is in line with recent predictions from reliable TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. However, other markets, including the U.S., may see only one iPhone 12 model at initial launch. The other three could be slightly delayed unless Apple is able to improve the availability of components and ramp up production.

Apple’s plans could change before the fall, according to the source, but the situation is complicated as of today.

Sub-6GHz vs. mmWave 5G

The differences between the two standards of 5G technology play a profound roll in how Apple will create iPhones for different markets and how it will roll them out.

This year’s iPhone lineup will be the first to offer super-speedy 5G connectivity, and as long as a 5G network is available to customers, there will be an iPhone 12 that takes advantage of it. But not all 5G networks are the same.

Most carriers in most markets are offering what’s called sub-6GHz 5G. It’s significantly faster than 4G LTE, with the ability to reach speeds of 900Mbps and above, and it boasts some similar advantages.

Sub-6GHz networks have good travel — and therefore potentially better coverage — and they can easily penetrate solid objects, such as buildings, much like the data technologies we’re already used to.

Then there’s mmWave 5G. It’s even faster than sub-6GHz 5G, with the ability to reach speeds of 5Gbps and above (theoretically), but it is offered only by a small number of carriers in certain countries, at present.

In addition, mmWave 5G comes with some rather substantial tradeoffs. Its signals have a shorter reach than sub-6GHz signals, and it’s nowhere near as good at penetrating solid objects. mmWave hardware is also more expensive.

There are some other 5G network standards, too — but these are the two that really matter when it comes to iPhone 12. They’re the two the source and various other outlets strongly believe Apple will support.

Faster 5G iPhones not for everyone

The source tells Cult of Mac that there will essentially be two iPhone 12 lineups, each consisting of four models. One lineup will support both sub-6GHz and mmWave networks, while the other will use only sub-6GHz 5G.

The lineup will depend on where you live. Most countries, where mmWave 5G is not yet available, will get the four iPhone 12 models that do not have the ability to connect to mmWave networks, according to the source. They will use only sub-6GHz signals.

A small number of countries where mmWave is available will get the other four iPhone 12 models that have the ability to connect to both standards, the source reiterated. These countries are currently expected to be the U.S., Japan, and South Korea as things stand.

This is in line with Thursday’s predictions from Wedbush analysts, who warned that the fastest 5G iPhone models won’t be available to all — though they believe mmWave handsets could be exclusive to the U.S.

Why so many models?

Why would Apple build iPhone 12 variants with only sub-6GHz 5G connectivity? And why not make them all compatible with both sub-6GHz and mmWave networks and serve everyone?

It likely comes down to cost. The source says the chips Apple is using to support mmWave networks cost more than $20 each. That might not sound like a lot, but it’s huge when talking about iPhone components.

It’s simply not cost-effective to build those chips into every iPhone 12 model when only a tiny number of countries can actually use them. Apple can increase its profit margin and save billions by using them only where necessary.

Those savings could mean U.S. customers miss out at launch, however.

Only 1 option for US?

Currently, as a result of “some design and power consumption issues,” the source said only one iPhone 12 with mmWave connectivity — that being the high-end 6.7-inch model — may be available when Apple launches in late October.

In the U.S. and other markets where mmWave devices will be available, customers could be waiting until even later for the other three iPhone 12 options, according to the source.

A similar warning was issued on Friday by sources for Digitimes, which reported:

… Apple may still unveil the 5G iPhones in 2020, but mass shipments for the new devices might not pick up until the first half of 2021, especially models supporting mmWave communication.

This isn’t final

The source reiterated multiple times that the situation today is constantly changing and that while Apple plans to release the iPhone 12 line up this year, exact timing, availability, and which 5G standards each one will support could still change.