Will my unlocked iPhone 5 support 4G in Bhutan?
— Dr. Bruce W. Bunting, Bhutan Foundation, USA
Dear Dr. Bruce,
Bhutan Telecom recently launched their 4G service in Thimphu. 4G, also known as LTE, promises speeds faster than 3G and fixed-line broadband. Different LTE networks around the world use different frequencies, also known as bands. The trick is that your phone must support the network’s frequency in order to be able to connect to it. The frequency that will be used by Bhutan Telecom’s 4G network is 1800 MHz, also known as “band 3”. This is the 4G band used in most of Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania. Picking this band was a wise decision: 4G phones and data cards that are available in the Indian market - Bhutan’s main trading partner and the source of most phones in mobile shops in Bhutan - will work here. But it also means that 4G phones for the north American networks (which do not use band 3), will not necessarily work in Bhutan (or in other networks in SE Asia, for that matter).
Finally, to your question: Apple manufactures two iPhone 5 models: A1428 and A1429. The latter supports “band 3”, while the former does not. To check the exact iPhone 5 model you own, look for the model number in tiny letters on the phone’s back cover. If it says “A1429”, your phone is good. But keep reading...
Even if you own the iPhone 5 model A1428 which does not support 4G in Bhutan, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Firstly, 4G is only available in selected parts of Thimphu, and you wouldn’t be able to use it outside Thimphu anyway. Secondly, for most purposes - casual browsing, email, etc. - 3G is good enough, and you don’t really need 4G. Thirdly, Bhutan Telecom’s 4G network does not currently support voice or SMS, so even if your phone connects to 4G, you will not be able to make and receive phone calls or use texting. Can I assume you wouldn’t like that? Lastly, by the time 4G supports voice and the network is available nationally, there’s a good chance that you will have moved on from your iPhone 5 to a shiny new device.
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