Why Apple's iPad Can't LTE Band Hop

Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s latest iPad includes Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM)'s Gobi chipset with support for both Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s bands of Long Term Evolution (LTE), but it lacks the radio frontend to switch between the two, a teardown of the device confirms.

Verizon told Light Reading Mobile that the new iPad would not be compatible with nor roam to AT&T's LTE network, but it wasn't clear whether that was technologically impossible or if it was a business decision made by Apple and its carrier partners. (See iPad: No 4G Switcheroo for You!)

A teardown completed by Light Reading sister company UBM TechInsights confirms that AT&T and Verizon's iPads are identical from a hardware perspective and are able to run on both networks with Qualcomm's Gobi chipset, the MDM9600. But, they lack the RF frontend to switch between the two.

That, in itself, was likely a business decision made by Apple and its partners, according to Allan Yogasingam, TechInsight's technical research manager.

"It's an Apple decision, but they work closely with carriers," he says. "They probably sat down in a room and asked if they want to incorporate across networks, but they probably said they want customer loyalty and consumers to sign up for a data plan. It happens all the time."

Wanting to lock down customer loyalty was likely the biggest driver, but cost is also a consideration. Current Analysis analyst Peter Jarich says that building one device with 700MHz support on both AT&T and Verizon would cost extra, in terms of both performance and the actual bill of materials. He doesn't expect to see that until the device can use software-defined radios to switch between the different bands.

"There are some 40+ LTE bands talked about," Jarich writes in an email to LR Mobile. "Nobody will support them all. ... Too many costs go into that. As much as everyone talks about Apple wanting a single SKU, I think the new iPad debunked that."

What's inside the iPad
TechInsights also found out that Apple picked longtime partner Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) for the touchscreen controllers and its four-in-one combo wireless chip, the BCM4330. It also used a modified version of its A5 processor, the A5X, to include quad-core graphics. The devices TechInsights looked into included memory from Apple competitor Samsung Corp. , but others had Elpida Memory Inc. parts instead.

"All this indicates that Apple has taken a strategy of using multiple suppliers from multiple regions to prepare for any difficulty that could arise in their supply chain," the report reads, referring to natural disasters that have affected suppliers in the past. "Prior to his appointment as CEO, Tim Cook was well known amongst Apple’s employees for his proactive approach to the Supply Chain. That influence still exists today as seen in the new iPad."

The teardown experts fell within $1 of its estimated bill of materials, finding a total cost of $309 inside the device compared to their estimate of $310. (See Apple Shaves Margins for LTE in New iPad.)

InformationWeek , another member of the United Business Media Ltd. (UBM) (London: UBM.L) clan, has the behind-the-scenes shots of actual TechInsights teardown here.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

Wildsubnet 12/5/2012 | 5:38:46 PM
re: Why Apple's iPad Can't LTE Band Hop

Neither ATT or Verizon make you sign up for data plan with the iPad. It's a month to month cost. Given that you can pop an ATT SIM in the Verizon iPad and surf ATT's 3G network...I would say they were not too concerned about people switching carriers. Actually, this makes purchasing the Verizon version a no-brainer (along with the mifi capabilities). This makes Verizon the clear winner hear, as much as anyone can win in this situation. People will purchase the Verizon one knowing they can use an alternate SIM when needed. Talk about coverage. To me this means Verizon LTE gets used most of the time. I would be shocked if the sales data in year showed the ATT version sold much at all.



Sign In