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.

POST A COMMENT

36 Comments

View All Comments

  • nsax - Tuesday, October 04, 2011 - link

    I've been trying to find this kind of insight all day - finally! Thanks Anand! Reply
  • yuanshec - Tuesday, October 04, 2011 - link

    Given the same size of Verizon ip4 PCB, I am still wondering how they put SIM card and the extra die size of A5 into it. Let us just wait ifixit solve this puzzle. Reply
  • yuanshec - Tuesday, October 04, 2011 - link

    Let's blame battery technology too...
    As an EE major, I was very upset that people keep saying like blame 28nm maturity bluh......
    The fact it, technology in semiconductor is already moving very fast, compare to other part of industry..
    Reply
  • gevorg - Tuesday, October 04, 2011 - link

    Very good read, thank you! I wish all Anandtech's Apple articles would be this thoughtful and interesting. Reply
  • popo341 - Tuesday, October 04, 2011 - link

    good topic hmmm Reply
  • kkkww - Tuesday, October 04, 2011 - link

    hindsight is 20/20 Reply
  • KPOM - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    True, but even with the benefit of hindsight, this is the first analysis that actually discusses the technical reasons.

    I'm not sure why there was so much hype about a radical new design. None of the credible rumor sites (Apple Insider, MacRumors, or 9to5 Mac) claimed rumors of a teardrop design, LTE, or NFC-equipped phone to be credible. The 4S name was "outed" last Friday when it was publicized that the betas of iTunes 10.5 had a placeholder for the iPhone 4S (including an icon) but not for an iPhone 5. Only BGR went out on a limb with the ludicrous claim that Sprint would get an exclusive iPhone 5. That came on the heels of a credible rumor from the WSJ that Sprint committed to purchasing a large volume of iPhones (which the WSJ later reported was fairly typical for an Apple deal), but BGR got swept up in all the hype.

    It would be nice if Anand did jump in, at least a little bit, to temper some rumors. Next on queue is the Nexus Prime release on 10/11. While only Google and Samsung know the details, there is a lot of speculation about what it will include. Granted, it has a bigger profile, but it might be nice to have some speculation about what is technically possible given the components available.
    Reply
  • dagamer34 - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    No, they all participated through linking to other sites, however they never published any original reports from their own sources. However, I think reposting is still an implicit admission of even a small amount of credibility of a rumor, otherwise you'd just ignore it.

    Because Apple has such a small PCB to work with, they can't add features into their phones until it's been fully integrated into the chips they use. That's why we don't see 5Ghz 802.11n WiFi, NFC, or LTE in the 4S. As of now, they're all on separate chips. However, next year, a lot of that stuff will be integrated because of the 28nm process, so I fully expect them in the next iPhone.
    Reply
  • mckirkus - Tuesday, October 04, 2011 - link

    This is eerily similar to the video card situation. Not a lot of progress plus delays as we wait for 28nm chips from Nvidia and AMD. IPhone 4S is sort like the 6850, new name, but pretty much the same thing. Reply
  • trip1ex - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    Great analogy if you ignore the twice as fast A5 inside the 4s along with the 7x as fast gpu. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now