Apple's Antenna Issues: Them's the Breaks

Tear-down specialist at UBM TechInsights says that an antenna break on the left side of the iPhone 4 casing could be the source of signal strength woes

Dan Jones, Mobile Editor

July 6, 2010

2 Min Read
Apple's Antenna Issues: Them's the Breaks

Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s signal reception issues on the iPhone 4 are likely caused by a break in the casing for an antenna on the left-hand side of the phone and therefore won't be helped by the company's plans to alter its 3G signal-strength software, says UBM TechInsights.

Apple put out an open letter to iPhone 4 users on Friday stating that the iPhone 4’s wireless performance is "the best we have ever shipped" but claiming that the formula the company uses to calculate 3G signal strength often shows better reception than is actually the case. Thus, the signal can drop "by one or more bars" when users grip the new iPhone "a certain way." The company's solution to this is to reformulate and update its signal strength software for the iPhone. (See Apple Explains iPhone 4 Troubles.)

Light Reading Mobile asked the tear-down specialists at our sister company, UBM TechInsights, what they thought might be the actual cause of the signal strength issues with the new phone. Jeffrey Brown, VP of business intelligence at UBM TechInsights, says the problem is a hardware "design issue" and that the software stuff is, in fact, "a smokescreen."

"It looks like it is more a result of where they have created breaks in the frame to create antennas," Brown said in an email reply to questions.

See below for a shot of the iPhone 4 casing that illustrates where the breaks are:

7152.jpg"By holding the phone in the left hand, one could effectively create a different length antenna by shorting across a break created by the black plastic insert," Brown continues. "The other side is already shorted so holding the phone in your right hand would not change the dynamics of the frame."

The following shot from UBM TechInsights shows the detail of the functional antenna on the left-hand side and the decorative break in the casing on the right:

7153.jpgNo quick fix
So, Apple's proposed software tweak will do little more than than "show how soft" the connection is when holding the phone in your left hand, Brown says. (See Apple Blames Your Grip.)

"This is still a design issue -- and a fundamentally wrong design nonetheless -- that Apple is scrambling to fix, as made evident for their recent job postings for antennae engineering experts," he notes.

Apple Insider reported last week that Apple started advertising positions for antenna experts just before the iPhone launched in June.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

About the Author(s)

Dan Jones

Mobile Editor

Dan is to hats what Will.I.Am is to ridiculous eyewear. Fedora, trilby, tam-o-shanter -- all have graced the Jones pate during his career as the go-to purveyor of mobile essentials.

But hey, Dan is so much more than 4G maps and state-of-the-art headgear. Before joining the Light Reading team in 2002 he was an award-winning cult hit on Broadway (with four 'Toni' awards, two 'Emma' gongs and a 'Brian' to his name) with his one-man show, "Dan Sings the Show Tunes."

His perfectly crafted blogs, falling under the "Jonestown" banner, have been compared to the works of Chekhov. But only by Dan.

He lives in Brooklyn with cats.

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