Debunk: sleep easy, the iPhone's still a quad-band worldphone

There's been a lot of buzz these past couple days about the iPhone's FCC filing and what it says -- or rather, what it doesn't say -- about the handset's internals. The fear basically revolves around the fact that a lack of testing on the GSM 900 and 1800MHz bands indicates that it lacks those bands entirely, but we can assure the globetrotters out there jonesin' for an iPhone come next month that there'll be a full range of RF spectrum waiting for you. How do we know? Well, first of all, in the year 2007 (or 2005, for that matter) it's simply idiotic to release a wide-appeal phone with any fewer than four GSM bands. Quadband GSM chipsets have been commodity items for some time now and add virtually no expense to a handset's internals. Second of all, quadband phones never have their non-US bands mentioned in a filing, particularly in a test report. Follow the break for a walkthrough of exactly what we mean.

Let's take a look at a released phone that we know to be quadband -- that is, a phone that supports GSM on the 850, 900, 1800, and 1900MHz bands, offering coverage pretty much anywhere in the world that a GSM tower exists. For our purposes, we'll pick on the RIM BlackBerry 8800. You're going to get a frightening peek into our daily FCC-lurking insanity here.

Searching for the 8800's FCC ID reveals offers up four filings: one for each band the FCC cares about plus an accessory filing that details radiation emitted by the phone's AC adapter. Here we see 850 and 1900 (GSM) and 2400 (Bluetooth). No mention of GSM 900 or 1800 here, despite the fact that the 8800 has the requisite support; the bands aren't used in the States, so they're dead in the FCC's eyes and RIM is under no obligation to provide test reports for them (at least, not to the FCC).

Now let's take a closer look at the test report for the device itself. Pardon the size of the text here -- you can check out the actual filing if you're so inclined -- but essentially, once again you'll find zero mention of GSM 900 or 1800. The FCC just doesn't give a crap, and why should it? You can't use those bands here. It's impossible, unless you're running some rogue cell network, and let's face it -- if that starts to become a problem 'round these parts, the FCC has bigger fish to fry than a filing for a band you can't use.

So that's our little tutorial into the deep, dark annals of FCC madness. It's a place we prefer not to go unless we have to, and a place we recommend our readers never venture. When a device like the iPhone gets blessed, though, it's pretty hard to avoid. Of course, "quadband" doesn't mean "unlocked" in this case -- AT&T still stands in your way regardless of where you plan on using the phone -- but at least you won't be stuck with nothing more than a fancy lookin' iPod once you hop the pond.