Branded iPhone 5 won't arrive until LTE, analysts say

That branded iPhone 5 that everyone has been waiting for won't arrive until next year because, among other reasons, Apple is holding out for LTE to be fully baked for compact smartphones like the iPhone.

An Apple phone branded as the iPhone 5 won't arrive until "4G" LTE technology is ready for compact smartphones, according to analysts.

Yes, you'll have to wait for the iPhone 5 for high-speed LTE, aka 4G.
Yes, you'll have to wait for the iPhone 5 for high-speed LTE, aka 4G. Apple

Needless to say, the iPhone 5 did not make an appearance today. Will Strauss, president of wireless chip market research firm Forward Concepts, says there is a very good reason that it was the 4S that showed up today and not the 5.

"They're saving iPhone 5 for the LTE version and that won't be out until next spring," said Strauss, who tracks companies like Qualcomm that supply the chips that power the 3G and 4G technology inside of phones. LTE offers, among other things, higher download and upload speeds compared to current 3G technologies.

Moreover, CEO Tim Cook has said in at least two earnings conference calls (when he was chief operating officer) that the "first generation of LTE chipsets force a lot of design compromises." He said that back in April.

And it's not necessarily Apple's fault, says Strauss, who says the current implementations of LTE in phones like the HTC ThunderBolt are too kludgy for Apple's tastes. "There's no way they could come out with LTE now," Strauss said. The ThunderBolt, for example, has an LTE baseband (modem) chip and a second 3G chip from Qualcomm for the voice functions.

That simply takes up too much room inside a relatively compact smartphone like the iPhone. Other experts agree. "The iPhone 4 PCB [printed circuit board] is already incredibly small, not leaving any room for an extra chip to enable LTE without shrinking the size of the battery (or increasing the thickness of the phone to accommodate both a larger PCB and a big battery)," wrote Anand Shimpi, a chip expert and CEO of Anandtech. His comments were posted today.

A Qualcomm chip--the MDM9615--will likely appear in the second quarter of next year built on a more advanced chip manufacturing process. The MDM9615 comes in a smaller chip package and is voice enabled, according to Anand.

"Apple (and all other smartphone makers) could [use]...the MDM9615 and have a 'single chip' LTE solution for smartphones...Next year (Q2 to be exact) should be when we can finally get LTE into something iPhone-sized," Anand wrote.

And the move to a more advanced chip manufacturing process will also reduce the power draw for these chips that are notorious battery-life killers. "Phones based on the MDM9615 will likely increase LTE battery life to reasonable levels rather than what we've seen from the first generation of devices," he wrote.

Another big reason to wait for LTE is coverage. There are a lot of places today that LTE still doesn't reach, according to Strauss. See Verizon's "Check for 4G LTE coverage in my area" page.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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