Readers Write About iPhone, 3G Wireless Networks
In response to the article Inside the iPhone: EDGE, EVDO, HSUPA, 3G, and WiFi, many readers have written to point out other likely reasons behind Apple's decision to initially target common and existing standards rather than the very latest 3G networks, and present more information about the future beyond EDGE, unlocked use of the iPhone outside of the US, and details complicating the delivery of a world phone.
3G Networks and Battery life
Brad Lasky writes, "I think one of the little-known reasons that Apple didn't include HSDPA/HSUPA support, aside from its lack of ubiquity within the marketplace, is actually something much simpler: battery life.
"Using my Cingular 8525 with ‘3G’ enabled eats away at the battery at an astounding rate. I'll be lucky to get a full day of usage out of minimal browsing and moderate phone use. If I'm streaming music from the HSDPA connection, I'll get about 2 hours of use before the phone calls it quits. Much to my dismay, this problem isn't actually a [software] problem, but merely the power-hungry nature of UMTS and HSDPA.
"At 11.6 mm thick, I can't imagine Apple putting in a battery significantly more powerful than the one I have, so I think that using EDGE, for now, was probably a wise move. I've heard rumors that a more efficient radio stack is out for my 8525, but battery life still remains an issue."
In a follow up email, Lasky later added, “There are quite a few articles on and xda-developers about the HTC 8525 / TyTn battery life and how people are using a program to force the phone into EDGE versus using UMTS /HSDPA.”
If forcing 3G phones into EDGE only mode is a common subject of interest, perhaps Apple opted out of providing 3G support for good reason: it wanted to deliver a practical product, not just a device with bullet point features.
The 3G Future Upgrade Path from EDGE
Someone I’ll call Reader-X writes: "I work for a 3G equipment vendor and have spent the past 4 years supporting Cingular with its adoption and roll out of UMTS services [also referred to as 3GSM].
"UMTS should really be considered to be 3G. It will provide to a Release 99 based phone 384 kbps [.38 Mb/s] in both the uplink and downlink. In theory it can provide up to 2 Mb/s but that would use up all of the cell capacity.
"CDMA-2000 with EVDO is also a 3G system but it provides its data capabilities via a data overlay carrier. From a personal bias I would say that UMTS is a technically better system. [...] The logical evolution from GSM / GPRS / EDGE is UMTS [rather than EVDO].
"UMTS itself is evolving. With release 5 it introduced HSDPA which introduced a shared high speed packet channel in the downlink. This gives a theoretical downlink speed of 1.8 Mb/s for a cat 5 mobile and 3.6 Mb/s for a cat 6 mobile. In practice networks are seeing over 700 kbps [.7 Mb/sec] in the downlink for cat 5 mobiles.
“Cat 6 mobiles are still very new and the networks have only just started to support them. They should be able to provide around 3.2 Mb/s in the downlink under very good conditions. In real networks I have heard that they typically produce over 2 Mb/s."
3G Service Availability: UTMS vs HSxPA
Reader-X continued, "HSUPA was introduced in release 6 of the 3GPP UMTS standards and the network providers are still in the process of introducing it into the network. Currently the limiting factors behind these deployments are the following:
  1. Availability of the phones or UEs [user equipment]. This is a chicken and egg situation. Who provides the feature first, the handset vendors or the network equipment vendors?

  2. The availability of the network infrastructure to support high speed data. Cingular has it deployed but doesn’t have high capacity links to the cells to provide the capacity. Another chicken and egg situation. What drives what? Innovation of new technology or customer demand?
"The combined 3.5G solution HSxPA (HSUPA and HSDPA) will not really be commercially available until the summer of this year."
3G Chip Set Availability
In regard to chip sets, Reader-X further pointed out, "I would suggest that the reason why Apple went with GSM quad band and EDGE for their phone are:
  1. Integrated GSM chip sets are available off the shelf from multiple vendors, whereas the only open vendor for UMTS / WCDMA chip sets is Qualcomm.

  2. Qualcomm chipsets come as a turnkey package of software and hardware and the software usually lags a good 6-18 months behind the Qualcomm official version for third parties.

  3. UMTS handsets have far more processing required to do the same thing that GSM can do. The more processing that they do the faster that they eat battery life.

    There was a joke a long time ago about a Sales rep went to Ericsson and somebody said as a van drove past ‘There goes a new 3G phone.’ The sales rep looked around, expecting a person to have a GSM sized hand set but the person from Ericsson said, ‘No the phone is in the van connected to a couple of car batteries.’

  4. UMTS is still in its infancy and HSxPA is still very new.
"Using GSM EDGE is a good choice if you consider that the GPRS network is an underlay for WIFI hotspots. I agree with you that later versions of iPhone will support HSxPA but not until the technology is proven. Apple is very good at pulling together existing technology to support new functionality from a user perspective."
WiMAX As A Future 4G Upgrade Path
Orlando Smith writes, "I just read your article, Inside the iPhone: EDGE, EVDO, HSUPA, 3G, and WiFi.  I agree with your analysis, but I am hoping that Apple support WiMAX for its computers, iPods, and iPhone as it has supported WiFi.  
"A quick look at Wikipedia will show the superiority of mobile WiMAX (802.16e-2005) over any of the wireless interfaces discussed in your article, and, in either the third or fourth quarter of 2007, Intel will be introducing it hybrid WiFi/WiMAX chip, with is code named 'Ofer,' to OEMs.  
"Ofer is to be backward compatible with existing WiFi standards.  I don't know whether Ofer 1.0 will satisfy the small size, low energy, and low heat requirements for the iPhone, but I imagine that Intel will be able conform future versions of Ofer to the iPhone."
Worldwide Use of Unlocked Phones
Many readers from Europe and Asia have written to point out that unlocked GSM phones can be used on existing data services in their area to send SMS and MMS messages and access the Internet.
This is apparently the case throughout most of Europe and Asia, as was noted in the article An iPhone Worth Talking About from last June, which considered why Cingular and GSM could provide Apple with far more options than going with Verizon and CDMA services.
However, it is still not clear whether unlocked phones can be used in the US, which was the context of the comments presented by Dean Hall. Some readers have reported the use of unlocked phones on T-Mobile, and have pointed out that service providers don’t care about the phone, because they make money on service.
It may be that other GSM networks in the US, including T-Mobile and MetroPCS, will jump to provide support for unlocked iPhones. There are already sites devoted to providing the information required to enable an unlocked phone, including
The only barrier may be unlocking the iPhone. The "lock" applied by Cingular is intended to prevent buyers from taking advantage of its heavy subsidy, then not using Cingular for service as agreed in the service contract
As already pointed out, other unique applications of the iPhone, including visual voicemail, are tied to custom Cingular services, and won’t work regardless of the lock issue.
The iPhone in European and Asian Networks
It appears that Americans will be able to use the iPhone on foreign networks when traveling, and that foreigners could buy an iPhone to use on their own network at home before its official release for foreign markets.
Because Cingular only operates in the US, it doesn't compete with foreign carriers; the company would have little reason to care if users wanted to buy out of their contract to use their phone unlocked in other markets that welcome the use of unlocked phones.  
However, the iPhone may need to evolve before being officially launched to markets in Europe (slated for release before the end of 2007) and Asia (scheduled for sometime in 2008). 3G service availability is better outside of the US, where locked phones have restricted the market and 3G networks have far less service coverage.
Michael Jennings writes, "In Europe, HSDPA is widely deployed, and EDGE is much less widely deployed. This is going to mean that the iPhone is going to train the performance of other cellular internet devices by a greater margin than it will in the US.
“I think this is going to be an issue at some point, and the pressure is certainly going to be stronger on Apple to come up with an HSDPA iPhone as soon as possible for Europe than it is for the US.”
The iPhone as a World Phone
Jennings continued, "There is an interesting issue here, which has to do with the frequencies on which cellular services operate in various parts of the world.
"Producing a GSM/GPRS/EDGE world phone is relatively easy these days. There are two frequency bands in use in the US for GSM: 850 MHz and 1900 MHz, and two in use in Europe and most of the rest of the world: 900 MHz and 1800 MHz.
“Quad band GSM phones are now common, and the iPhone is one of these. The minor annoying point about such 'world phones' are that they do not work in Japan or Korea, neither of which use GSM at all.”
That is why Apple executives have stated that, in order to enter the Japanese market, Apple will have to produce a CDMA iPhone.
Jennings continued, "For UMTS/HSDPA, there are two bands in use in the US: 850 MHz and 1900 MHz, and one in use in Europe: 2.1 GHz. Because UMTS/HSDPA coverage is patchy, it is necessary for HSDPA devices to support GSM as well.
“An HSDPA ‘world phone’ would therefore have to support three bands of HSDPA (850 MHz, 1900 MHz, and 2.1 GHz) and the four bands of GSM. I know of only one device that presently supports all these bands: a Windows Mobile PDA from HTC called the Hermes or the TyTN or various other names depending on who is selling it. This is a big and bulky device, because you have to be big and bulky to fit all that in.”
Incidentally, the chunky HTC TyTN is $800 unlocked. This is the phone that Windows Mobile fans are comparing to the $500 iPhone in features, while  they also decry the “high price” of the iPhone as something nobody will be able to afford. Haha, so which is it?
Jennings continued, "The company that seems best at producing compact HSDPA devices is Motorola, which has an HSDPA version of the RAZR called the V3xx. This is the smallest HSDPA device I know of, but Motorola selling different versions of it in different parts of the world.
“The US version has HSDPA at 850/1900 MHz and GSM at 850/1800/1900 MHz, and the European version has HSDPA at 2.1 GHz and GSM at 900/1800/1900 MHz. So Motorola has not been able to fit all the HSDPA bands into the phone, and has had to leave some of the GSM bands out in order to provide what HSDPA it can.
“Getting all these bands into the same device is a ways off. I cannot imagine either HTC or Motorola selling the technology to Apple, so they will have to get it from somewhere else.
"So either Apple has to wait a bit in order to provide an HSDPA iPhone, or it releases different versions of the iPhone for different parts of the world. I suspect that Steve Jobs really hates the idea of releasing different versions in different parts of the world. I suspect it offends his sense of aesthetics.
“However, the need for an HSDPA version in Europe is more pressing than in the US. Also, Japan has 2.1 GHz HSDPA and Korea will have it very soon, so a 2.1 GHz HSDPA would also work in those markets where the first generation iPhone will not. I will be interested in seeing what happens."
Thanks, readers
It’s great to be able to publish all these comments from readers who often know more about things than I do! If I’ve missed a comment you’ve email in or posted into comments, please feel free to resend it. I read everything and try to respond, but I am currently on vacation so I’m a little slower at responding than usual.
I work hard to present accurate information because the alternative is having to read the same old “analysis” about how Cisco’s “iphone’ trademark is going to sink Apple. So thanks for all of your input and clarifications.
Coming up next: Why no wireless downloads from the iTunes Store? Hint: wireless is too slow and expensive!
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