iPhone 5: Apple Can Have 4G But Not the World
Apple has always taken a conservative approach to the wireless networks, ever since it dialed up its first iPhone on AT&T’s 2G EDGE network in 2007. But many were disappointed Tuesday when the latest dual-mode GSM/CDMA iPhone 4S didn’t include support for faster LTE networks currently being deployed across the globe.
That’s because LTE still has issues like battery life and limited geographical coverage, says UBM TechInsights VP of Technical Intelligence David Carey. Apple likely wants to wait until the networks were improved and ubiquitous enough to support the device. (See iPhone 4S: What's in a Name?)
This likely won’t happen until the end of 2013. Carey, however, believes Apple may proceed with the 4G standard as soon as July 2012, even if that means eschewing its world-phone status to add the 4G capability. (See Sprint Hastens to Join US LTE Race .)
“LTE may have undeniable/irresistible market momentum within nine to 12 months, but they may revert to a non-worldphone implementation,” Carey writes in a letter to LR Mobile. “To do GSM/W-CDMA-HSPA/CDMA-EVDO/LTE all in a common platform may be a bridge too far as it (potentially) adds a lot of extra baggage just to get a common design, and it may be cheaper to regionalize at that point.”
There are increased costs to add LTE bands, but they're already half-way there by using Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM)'s chips for CDMA and GSM connectivity. Carey estimates LTE might cost about $10 more to implement. But, with so many bands of LTE deployed across the globe, it could be complicated to implement the 4G tech in a truly "worldly" way. (See Qualcomm Not Holding Up LTE iPhone.)
What about T-Mobile?
Apple’s iPhone 4S spec sheet also doesn’t include support for T-Mobile US Inc. ’s 1700Mghz AWS spectrum, but that doesn’t mean the antennas aren’t in the device. It could be the case that Apple is just choosing not to turn them on, says Carey.
He'd have to see the hardware to determine how feasible it would really be but says he wouldn’t be surprised to open the iPhone 4S and see T-Mobile spectrum support baked in but not turned on. Without a technology barrier to support AWS, it was more likely a business decision on Apple’s behalf.
“Maybe they are holding out to hold T-Mobile hostage like they did with Sprint,” Carey says. “True world phone status would be a richer array of spectrum support than they list now.”
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile