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The Lack of LTE in the iPhone 5 Just Won’t Matter

by Sean P. Aune | April 23, 2011April 23, 2011 10:00 am PDT

iPhone 4 LTEA lingering question in the world of cell phones right now is if Apple will bring LTE (Long Term Evolution) support to the iPhone this year.  Other 4G options such as WiMax or HSPA+ would seem off the table as LTE is the standard AT&T and Verizon, Apple’s two carriers in the United States, are working on.  The problem is that it appears Apple isn’t working on any of them as of yet any way.

There are issues in bringing the super fast cellular solution to the popular iPhone, and that is the fact that the technology is still very much in its infancy.  Despite the fact that 4G and LTE are the buzzwords du jour as of late in the tech industry, there is no doubt that it is still a very young technology.  Verizon is hoping to have LTE in 175 markets in the United States by the end of this year, and that means “cities,” so you can pretty much forget about using this super fast technology while tooling down I-70 in the middle of Kansas.

While a lack of support is usually enough to keep a company away from adopting a technology too rapidly, in the case of LTE and Apple there is also the issue of design.  As Brian Caulfield of Forbes points out, there is currently no LTE chip currently in production that has a fallback to 3G support when the 4G network in unavailable.  Currently the HTC ThunderBolt is using two completely separate chips to handle LTE and 3G, and this leads to more space being needed on the interior of the phone as well as more drain on the battery.  Design and battery life are two things that Apple is known to be obsessed with, so the idea of both those factors being impacted just to bring LTE to the iPhone now would definitely be unpalatable to the company.

During an earnings call this week for Apple, acting CEO Tim Cook addressed the issue of 4G and the iPhone saying, “The first generation of LTE chip-sets force a lot of design compromises with the handset, and some of those we are just not willing to make.”  Luckily there is hope on the horizon, but it is doubtful it would make it in time for the iPhone 5, which is expected to release this Sept. (see our artist rendition below) Qualcomm,  Ericcson and Intel are all said to be working on new chips which will solve the LTE/3G combination situation, but the samples aren’t even expected to make it to manufacturers for testing until late this year. This erases any hope that the iPhone 5 will get the blistering fast speeds in time for this year’s iPhone update, but it makes it a definite candidate for the iPhone 6/2012 update.

iPhone 5 Black (Front and Side)

With a slew of LTE capable handsets on the horizon, one has to wonder if this choice could possibly come back to haunt Apple.  Could the company possibly see a dip in sales of the fifth generation phone due to its lack of 4G support?  Doubtful.  If you think back to the first iPhone coming out with only EDGE support, and 3G being held off to the second release, it certainly didn’t seem to impact sales at all.  True, the market has evolved since that time, and consumers have become more and more data hungry in the intervening years, but the iPhone faithful have already shown that their loyalty to the phone isn’t about the latest speeds or technology.  They live without Adobe Flash support, one of the most dominating video standards on the Web, and that doesn’t seem to impact sales.  They live with sub-par cameras, antenna issues, a restrictive operating system and a host of other downfalls, and yet they come back year after year for another update.  Waiting a year for LTE isn’t going to make them even bat an eye.

LTE will indeed come to the iPhone, but it isn’t going to happen until Apple feels its ready, not just because some consumers want it.

What do you think?  Will lack of LTE support make you not purchase an iPhone 5?


Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...

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