How Apple updates the next version of the iPhone will be particularly important for AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) as it hopes to win regulatory approval for its planned $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile US Inc. . (See AT&T to Buy T-Mobile USA for $39B and What Happens to Sprint After AT&T/T-Mobile Merger?)
Currently, the iPhone 4 runs on AT&T's High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) 3G network and Verizon Wireless 's CDMA EV-DO 3G network. An upgrade to support HSPA+ could be in the works for iPhone 5, according to UBM TechInsights . (See Verizon Finally Gets the iPhone 4 and AT&T Drunk on iPhone Success.)
Chad Davis and Steve Bitton, product managers at our sister company United Business Media Ltd. (UBM) (London: UBM.L), write in a note to LR Mobile Friday:
At this stage, the signs do point to the next generation being more HSPA+ ready than prepped for LTE. HSPA+ will provide an improvement over 3G but will still not be as fast as LTE (4G) such as the service provided by Verizon. HSPA+ will be the “4G” promoted by AT&T and T-Mobile. It’s not true 4G but still improves above today’s rates of 7.2Mbps download and 5.76Mbps upload HSPA speeds of the iPhone 4 to what HSPA+ networks can offer.
It could be relatively easy for Apple to update the next version of the iPhone so that it could run on both carrier's networks. T-Mobile currently uses paired 1700MHz/2100MHz AWS spectrum for 3G while AT&T supports 850MHz and 1900MHz frequencies. The latest iPhones have 2100MHz support for European 3G services. Any iPhone that would run across T-Mobile's 3G would need more radio support to operate over the paired 1700Mz/21OOMHz bands as would any of AT&T's other 3G phones.
UBM's Davis and Bitton, however, expect that even faster LTE 4G support could lag the next major iPhone update:
The main hold-up, in our opinion, is that network expansion to LTE seems to be happening at not the quickest rate. ... We expect both LTE iPhone & iPad to occur within the same calendar year -- which could be anywhere in late 2011 to 2012.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile