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Summary:

When the fanfare of the iPad launch begins to diminish, eyes will begin to look to the fast approaching summer and seek an updated iPhone. Though rumors of the iPhone 4.0 OS are circulating, there’s been little talk about what could be next for the iPhone […]

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When the fanfare of the iPad launch begins to diminish, eyes will begin to look to the fast approaching summer and seek an updated iPhone. Though rumors of the iPhone 4.0 OS are circulating, there’s been little talk about what could be next for the iPhone hardware. Will it take design cues from the iPad with an aluminum enclosure, though that would feel in some ways to be a step backwards? More importantly, is the time right for the iPhone to take the leap to 4G?

A Bit of History

Three years ago when the handset launched, the iPhone was a 2G device. As a quick bit of history to what all of these G’s mean, Wikipedia offers the definition that the naming conventions “generally refer to a change in the fundamental nature of the service.” For example, 2G represented the switch from analog phones to digital ones (the iPhone was never analog). 3G brought multimedia support (recall how the iPhone 3.0 OS didn’t bring MMS support to original iPhones). True 4G networks represent all IP packet switched networks and as a result, consumers benefit from increases in data speeds.

3G is based on two parallel infrastructures of circuit-switched and packet-switched networks. To get a quick idea of the difference, a circuit switched network involves securing a circuit from the origin to the destination. Packet switching involves segmenting the comment into individual packets that can be routed individually (and even take different paths) to reach the destination where they are then reassembled in order. From a technical perspective, this is a much better utilization of resources as capacity isn’t wasted on circuit switching when the circuit may not be in continuous use.

The general idea behind 4G is to provide “a comprehensive and secure all-IP based solution where facilities such as IP telephony, ultra-broadband Internet access, gaming services and streamed multimedia” can be provided to users. Pulling this off, however, involves meeting standards set forth by the International Telecommunication Union. To be in compliance and really be operating at 4G standards, the cellular system must have “target peak data rates of up to approximately 100 megabits per second for high mobility” like mobile access and up to 1 gigabit per second for low mobility, like local wireless access. That’s a very high bar compared to current standards, even compared to what most of you probably have for broadband at home.

The Road Ahead

On the road to 4G, you might encounter something called 3GPP Long Term Evolution (LTE). Though it technically doesn’t comply with all of the 4G specs (mostly in terms of speed), you’ll still see this branded as 4G. Since last year, that’s where most networks have been headed. LTE promises to bring some speed improvements (and hopefully latency improvements too, as that’s a big issue that really affects how the true speed is perceived).

With the increase of iPhone users on AT&T’s network in the U.S., there are places across the country where strains are felt during heavy usage times. This reality mixed with the expensive cost and rollout of 4G service means that carriers will continue to invest in their 3G networks, which is a win to everyone. In fact, iPhone 3GS users are capable of taking advantage of the HSPA 7.2 megabits per second speeds if in a compatible market. Trials for this began last year and the technology is still being rolled out over this year.

AT&T announced in February that its next-generation 4G network wouldn’t be available until 2011, though trials would begin later this year. So will the next iPhone be the iPhone 4G? Most likely. The iPhone 3GS was released before AT&T’s networks had upgraded to offer the faster speed and I predict a similar case with this year’s iPhone model. Will Apple call it the iPhone 4G? Especially considering there aren’t plans for a 5G or 6G network in immediate future? That remains to be seen but if I had any say in the matter, I’d prefer it to just be called the iPhone.

What are your thoughts? Do you have the iPhone 3GS and does the network feel faster in your neighborhood? Are you like me and still have the 3G, hoping that the next iPhone will be a substantial upgrade? Drop us a line and tell us what you think.

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  1. Bill St. Clair Monday, March 22, 2010

    I still don’t have 3G service where I live, yet I must pay $30/month for it. Will they up the fee for 4G even though I doubt I’ll have that any time soon either? Sure wish I could pay $20/month for the $20/month service I get here. I’d happily pay an extra $10 during any month that I actually connect to 3G in a city somewhere. Most months that doesn’t happen. Of course, it would be better to just get 3G, or 4G, and have the internet on my iPhone be faster than my DSL. That would make tethering look mighty nice.

  2. I’m probably one of very few to say this but I still have my 2G and LOVE it. Quite honestly I have never experienced the network issues so many others complain about and the 3G and 3GS were not significant enough upgrades for me to change. I am still waiting for the front facing camera that allows iChat. Come on Steve (Jobs), You know it’ll be revolutionary, go ahead and blow the competition out the water!

  3. Five Rhombus | March Communications Monday, March 22, 2010

    [...] It’s Foursquare with a bit of a a twist, hence the rhombus.  Logo and tagline both current in the works as well.  Perhaps it’ll be one of the newest applications to appear on the iPhone 4G? [...]

  4. I think the iPhone 4g will be capable of connecting to 4g network to be sure it will take advantage of this new network without getting an “iPhone 4gs”.

    For now I’m thinking about switching to iPhone but can’t make up my mind if I’m getting an iPhone 3GS or waiting for the iPhone 4G comming in June/July. =P

    1. You’re too close to July now — don’t cave!!

    2. I’m in the same boat, hanging on with an old Blackberry Pearl… it’ll be worth waiting it out though, imagine getting on an 18/24 month fixed contract with a 3GS the same month Apple drops the 4G. It’d be hellish.

  5. My question is, will the iphone go to Verizon or stay with AT&T?

    1. As a frequent traveler, I used to like the ability of taking my GSM phone with me, swapping out my SIM card for a local one in another country, and using my phone there (complete with contacts, messages, settings, etc.). It would be great if I could do this with my iPhone (I mean legally). I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s cursed their iPhone (despite loving it oh so much) for this very reason. So will the iPhone 4G finally be unlocked? I hope this year will finally be the year!

    2. The iPhone will definitely continue with AT&T. The timing for adding Verizon depends on new hardware functionality (LTE radio added to the current GSM).

      Apple will probably ship the LTE/GSM iPhone in Jun 2011; very surprising if they ship it this Jun.

  6. I do not think that iPhone 4.0 will be 4G. Yes, AT&T is rolling out trials of 4G this year, but that is only for 4G data, not true 4G voice. We are at least a year off from that, as most of the standards for 4G haven’t been finalized yet by the ITU. Apple is big on releasing technology before anyone else, but this one is a little too big for them to try. I think we are going to get air cards left and right from AT&T and Verizon on 4G, and then late 2011 we’ll start to see phones popping up.

    1. opera has just answered your prayers and submitted opera mini to the app store *finger crossed*

  7. I don’t currently use iPhone. I have just a Nokia 2330, which is good, but in future if I need a phone that will be more capable at surfing the web, iPhone will hopefully be the phone of choice.

  8. @ Ted: You’re thinking USA centric.

    This decision is a world-wide one for Apple. I don’t pretend to have any idea whether it will be in the next iPhone, but the decision on 4G will be based on whether any markets exist that have the technology, not just when the USA or AT&T roll out the tech.

    My understanding is that there are markets in Europe and Japan that already have LTE so I would expect that they might include it in the next iPhone, but no one really knows.

    1. No one has LTE working yet. The standards that we are using in the US are the same worldwide. The only version of 4G that is working and will have a phone on it before long is WiMax.

    2. Also @ Ted – there are live LTE networks in Scandinavia today, albeit rather sparse on devices, so your comment about no-one having LTE working is incorrect. While the WiMAX and LTE standards may be the same gloabally, frequency/spectrum allocation and channelization are not. For example, it will not be possible for a 700MHz Verizon LTE device to work in Europe or pretty much anywhere else outside the US unless it also concurrently supports other frequencies. This all contributes to issues with radio module type, device form factor, antenna design and battery life.

    3. Also @ Ted – there are live LTE networks in Scandinavia today, albeit rather sparse on devices, so your comment about no-one having LTE working is incorrect. While the WiMAX and LTE standards may be the same globally, frequency/spectrum allocation and channelization are not. For example, it will not be possible for a 700MHz Verizon LTE device to work in Europe or pretty much anywhere else outside the US unless it also concurrently supports other frequencies. This all contributes to issues with radio module type, device form factor, antenna design and battery life.

  9. I’ve been thinking about this myself.

    Apple kind of backed themselves into a corner when the began calling the 3G the iPhone 3G. This gave rise to the need for the unwieldy 3GS moniker. Which then begs your question: what next? The iPhone 3GS 2?

    If you can recall the splitting of the original iPod, something similar here will probably happen. They introduced a color iPod but kept around the old one, so had to call it iPod Photo, but then collapsed the two when prices became lower for the color screens.

    So, my bet is that they fade out the 3G and return to plain ‘ol “iPhone” at some point in the near future. But, who knows, the cell business is different than computers where Apple has gotten away with uni-branded consumer names (MacBook 2001 and 2010 are both sold as “MacBook”), so I could be wrong.

    As to the iPhone 4G; no way. Not for at least another year, if not two.

    1. New Name: iPhone Pro

      1. go in microsoft way better,
        iPhone home
        iPhone home basic
        iPhone ultimate
        iPhone professional

    2. How about just iPhone 4, 5, 6… They can come up with something cool later….

  10. AT&T has been trying to upgrade for months now and has finally caught up. When the next iPhone is released, people will be expecting faster speeds on a network that is going to get bogged down TREMENDOUSLY.

    The service won’t be able to handle the record crowds first off but record crowds wanting FASTER service then what it usually gives

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