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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  • tvarad - Tuesday, October 04, 2011 - link

    Internal and external design changes in one iteration. Internal design change leaving external dimensions/interfaces alone in next iteration. Rinse and repeat. Reply
  • iwodo - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    It is still not a world 3G phone without the support of TDS-CDMA used by China Mobile.

    But the next Qualcomm MDM9615 will support TD / FDD LTE and TDS-CDMA which should make it a true World Phone in 3G and 4G.

    Hopefully they could push the date of iPhone 5 forward to June/ July...
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    MDM9615 does support TD-SCDMA :)

    -Brian
    Reply
  • Cr0nJ0b - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    For me, the only real benefit of LTE is the ability to use voice and data at the same time...but from what I've read, Qualcomm has had simultaneous voice and data for their EV-DO framework for a few years now. I've also read that it's been rolled out on the Verizon network. Most of the reports are pretty scattered, but this would solve my main issue with upgrading my 3G (ugh) phone. I'm one of the few people that actually uses voice and data at the same time (a lot), so the VZN iPhone is not a great upgrade for me. And AT&T is absolutely awful at least with my 3G phone. I drop calls about 30% of the time and another 20% the reception is garbled for parts of the conversation...When I had VZN my service was great. So why is SVDO still not available on VZN smart phones? Reply
  • Brian Klug - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    SVDO in that form isn't rolled out anywhere, the only phone capable of SVDO is the Thunderbolt, which as we've covered gets that functionality from having two CDMA2000 basebands. MDM9600 handles EVDO data all the time, MSM8655 handles 1x voice all the time, so you get "free" simultaneous voice and data on 3G.

    The 4G LTE handsets get simultaneous voice and data on LTE svLTE purely as a function of there being two basebands as well.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • ptmmac - Thursday, October 06, 2011 - link

    I always get sucked in by the rumor mill. I want a big screen. I want a new form factor. I want...

    Apple has always made its computers and phones out of mature silicon that is available in large quantities. They have never been bleeding edge in tech. They are far more bleeding edge in stability, ease of use, and integration of design with software, There are two reasons for this. 1 Apple sells enormous quantities of each model. They only make a few models with very few options. As a result they need lots of silicon for each launch. Simple design, mature silicon, mature software = the Apple experience. Who would have thought that only one company would be able to master the idea that the tech check list does not insure a quality experience? If you stay mad about this then you are not paying attention.
    I am also always disappointed after new product launches, until I try the product. I thought Apple was just getting lazy when they made the iPod until I tried one. I loved how the iPhone looked but how could I justify spending $600 on a phone? I didn't but I did get one as a gift. I still am not sure whether it was given to me because I wouldn't shut up talking about it or because I am so absentminded that they couldn't see any other way to get me to stay in touch (maybe both!). I have had every model except the 4

    Reply

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