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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  • dagamer34 - Tuesday, October 04, 2011 - link

    What's this? Logic on the internet?!?! Shocking!!

    Excellent analysis Anand. Articles like this one make me wonder what the rest of the world is smoking. Analysts that make up reports don't know the first thing about technology, whereas your average Anandtech reader is far more informed than they are.

    If this roadmap bears true, I think we'll see a repeat of product introductions from this year happen next year: iPad in spring, WWDC in summer, and iPhone with new iOS in Fall. And like you said, we'll probably see a hypothetical "iPhone 6" (man I hate typing that) in Q3 2012 (likely September).

    By the way, if 28nm production isn't going so well, what about the TSMC rumors that A6 chips are already being produced for the iPad 3?
    Reply
  • quiksilvr - Tuesday, October 04, 2011 - link

    It's logical of the limitations of the design of the iPhone that there was no LTE.

    What isn't logical is *smacks head* changing the damn design of the iPhone.
    Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Tuesday, October 04, 2011 - link

    Well there's the entire accessories industry to worry about. We don't know if the leaked case design document would have been the final "new" design. Releasing a new design and forcing accessory makers and customers to wait months, perhaps missing the critical Christmas buying season, for redesigned accessories will have both hardware partners and customers complaining. This is probably one reason why Apple doesn't tend to change the design of their computers or mobile devices every year. And if Apple had released a new design and their own line of first-party accessories, the complaints would have been about Apple's walled garden marginalizing third-parties.

    And given all the fuss over the iPhone 4's antennae issues, it's interesting that everyone was clambering for the leaked new design that proposed an aluminum back, which makes it difficult to design a good antennae for. At least with the iPhone 4S using the same design, Apple' claims to have used the experience to fix remaining antennae concerns. Hopefully.

    As it stands, Apple looks to have crammed as much new tech in the iPhone 4 as possible, notably a much more powerful SoC, while maintaining battery life. That's not world changing, but not easily dismissed either.
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    I refuse to comment until I see the Nexus Prime next week.

    Never mind, I will. The 4S is a let down. My contract has been up since August and I've got to say, I wasn't looking for an iPhone 4.5. If I wanted the 4, I would have bought it when it came out, but it wasn't much of an upgrade then. Sure the camera is better, sure they included some app, which I'll never use. But what people aren't considering is that these upgrades only make the iPhone equivalent to the Droid-based phones that are already out.

    Apple was ahead of the game with its resolution, battery, and what not. Now their latest release is just a catch-up to competition.

    I think the app (Siri) that they wished to include is a topic of itself. If they wanted to include something useful, how about a voice navigation app? I mean really, why have text-based directions when voice navigation should be an inherent feature. This whole upgrade isn't as "magical" and "amazing" as they keep saying in the video.

    Perhaps it's time to buy my first Droid :)
    Reply
  • jameskatt - Saturday, October 08, 2011 - link

    LTE Android Phones last only a few hours. They are completely impractical. You have to carry several batteries to have day-long phone service.

    LTE is totally impractical for smart phones. And it will be until late 2012.

    Battery life is very very important for the vast majority of consumers.

    Apple gave consumers what they want in a new iPhone:
    1. A5 CPU
    2. 8 Megapixel camera with 1080p HD Video
    3. iOS 5
    4. SIRI Voice Interface
    5. Vastly improved antenna design.

    As a result, the iPhone 4S is already SHATTERING SALES RECORDS across the world.
    Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    Battery life is another thing to take into consideration. Do they want to downgrade talk time on the iPhone from eight hours down to three hours like you'd get on a Galaxy II? Probably not, but much more energy efficient LTE components will be around next year. Reply
  • retrospooty - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    "Do they want to downgrade talk time on the iPhone from eight hours down to three hours"

    There are dozens of 4G phones out there that have great battery life. Pretty much every manufacturer has a few. They all managed to figure it out, why cant Apple? This is a total transparent cop-out.
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    Name one. Reply
  • Guspaz - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    Dozens of 4G phones? No, almost all of those are just HSPA+ devices like the iPhone 3G/3GS/4/4S. There are a few out now, like the Droid Bionic, but certainly not dozens. Reply
  • retrospooty - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    Just at Verizon.... Bionic, Charge, Thunderbolt, Revolution.
    Sprint, Evo, Nexus S, Galaxy S, Evo3d, photon, Shift, Epic, Conquer.

    Need more, Or is the Point taken?

    Apple said hte same crap with 3G, when thier iphone was 2G... Its acop-out as to why they didnt offer what hte compatition offers.
    Reply

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