Along the road leading up to today's iPhone 4S reveal were many rumors about the iPhone 5 coming out this year boasting a new thinner, teardrop profile - potentially even with LTE. Despite attempts to convince people otherwise, magic doesn't actually exist and fitting the existing 45nm iPhone 4 internals (not to mention a larger, more power hungry 45nm A5 SoC) in a significantly smaller chassis with no impact on battery life isn't really possible.

The iPhone 4 PCB 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 accomodate both a larger PCB and a big battery). Today, Qualcomm is a leading provider of LTE baseband silicon and unfortunately they don't ship any baseband hardware that supports both LTE and voice (over 1x/WCDMA) without extra silicon. In order to support both you need to be using something Qualcomm calls SoC Fusion. By leveraging a Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC in combination with Qualcomm's MDM9600 LTE modem you can deliver both voice and LTE data. Otherwise the MDM9600 is only good for data, which is admittedly useful in things like USB modems or MiFis. Apple obviously doesn't use Qualcomm Snapdragon SoCs so enabling LTE on the iPhone isn't possible using Qualcomm baseband unless you make the phone's PCB larger (which Apple obviously wasn't going to do). Note that no one else seems to deliver a single chip LTE + 1x/WCDMA voice solution either, so this isn't just a Qualcomm limitation.

While the MDM9600 is built on a 45nm process, its successor due in 2012 is built on a 28nm process. Qualcomm's current roadmaps show the 28nm MDM9615 arriving in Q2 2012. The 9615 finds itself in a smaller 10x10mm package and is voice enabled as well. Apple (and all other smartphone makers) could replace the MDM6600 with the MDM9615 and have a "single chip" LTE solution for smartphones. I put single chip in quotes because there are obviously other components necessary such as a PMIC and in the case of the MDM9615, an external transceiver. But next year (Q2 to be exact) should be when we can finally get LTE into something iPhone-sized.

These modems are pretty power hungry DSPs, the move to 28nm should not only help reduce die size and allow for more integration but it should also decrease power consumption. 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. 

As you may have heard however, the move to 28nm at both TSMC and Global Foundries isn't really going all that smoothly. The jump from 4x-nm to 28nm is a very big one, so it's not unexpected to have pretty serious teething problems as the process ramps up. I suspect that an aggressive 28nm roadmap that didn't pan out probably caught a lot of SoC and smartphone vendors in a position where they couldn't ship what they wanted to in 2011.

If you're waiting for an LTE enabled iPhone 5 (or just better battery life out of an LTE smartphone), you'll have to wait until late Q2 next year at the earliest. While I don't like participating in the rumor garbage, if I were to guess at the release date of the rumored iPhone 5 I'd say early Q3 2012.

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  • toph - Wednesday, October 5, 2011 - link

    The Thunderbolt has great battery life though? The Evo? The Epic? Have you actually used these phones? I've used 80% of the phones you have up there, and I wouldn't describe any of them as having spectacular battery life, and CERTAINLY not on 4G.

    Add to that that 4G isn't even widespread enough to matter in the US yet, and you can see why Apple would wait to implement it.
  • retrospooty - Wednesday, October 5, 2011 - link

    You and Apple are making the same lame excuses as Apple did for not putting 3g into the original iphone. It's too much of a battery hog, while all other makers were using it without issue. There is nothing you can say that changes that fact.

    I do understand why Apple would worry more about this than most since they dont have a freegin removable battery, which I cannot understand why.
  • dagamer34 - Monday, October 10, 2011 - link

    Phones back in 2006-2007 weren't sucking down gobs of data like the iPhone did. None of them had a web browser worth talking about. If your phone is only useful for calls and texts, it's battery will probably last longer.
  • 123perryv - Thursday, October 13, 2011 - link

    4G android phones have a much larger overall package size to accommodate the 4G chips & CDMA voice chip necessary. They also need significantly larger batteries to make up for the abysmal battery life you get on 4G.

    Apple was never going to make a ridiculously over-sized phone like some of the Androids I see on the market. They are too big for the majority of consumers to carry around. Apple makes the Corvette of phones not the Chevelle.

    While I would like a LTE iphone that could last 8 hours talking, I would balk at a larger phone.
  • dagamer34 - Wednesday, October 5, 2011 - link

    They've "figured" it out by shoving a larger battery inside. And I don't even think there are "dozens" of 4G LTE or WiMax phones in existence.
  • darwinosx - Wednesday, October 5, 2011 - link

    You just told everyone that you either didn't read the article or if you did then you didn't comprehend it.
    Apple is not willing to suffer the incredibly poor battery life phones with the current LTE chip are facing.
    Of course Androiders will say you just have to turn off all services, get an extended battery, and root your phone to make it last part of a day. Most people don't want to put up with that. Lots of Androiders have gotten different phones because of it.
  • retrospooty - Wednesday, October 5, 2011 - link

    "Apple is not willing to suffer the incredibly poor battery life phones with the current LTE chip are facing."

    Here, its fixed now below...

    "Apple is unable to engineer a solution for the increased needs of 4G like all other major manufacturers have"
  • Johnapol - Wednesday, October 5, 2011 - link

    Don't worry darwinosx, he didn't understand the article. Everyone else here understands your pain.
  • dagamer34 - Tuesday, October 4, 2011 - link

    One other question I have is if the next iPhone is going to support LTE and is intended to again be a "world phone", what bands do you think it will support. As far as I know, no LTE phone released so far supports more than the carrier it was originally designed for (though I haven't quite read up on what carriers the Galaxy S II LTE supports).
  • faizoff - Tuesday, October 4, 2011 - link

    Yeah, excellent analysis indeed. I like reading articles based on sound logic and this was a good one. Thank you for the quick report.

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