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The on-again, mostly off-again rumor of an LTE iPhone (s aapl) is likely to remain off for the rest of 2011, at least according to the latest from DigiTimes. Citing “industry sources,” DigiTimes reports, “problems concerning yield rates of LTE chips offered by Qualcomm” is the latest issue with an LTE iPhone. Of course, the real problem remains a lack of coverage.
Despite Verizon’s (s vz) attempt at obfuscation in the chart above, the only U.S. carrier with 4G service worth mentioning doesn’t have much to show for LTE so far. Only cities with the yellow circles actually have the service, the green stars being planned for later this year. Not surprisingly, that’s still better than AT&T (s t), which claims “4G” service with its HSPA+ upgrade, with LTE having an “initial” launch sometime this year. That’s important to the prospects of an LTE iPhone, because Apple still sells about a third of its iPhones in the U.S., making it easily the single largest market.
Internationally, the situation is even less favorable for an LTE iPhone, though there is interest, notably in China. Last month, Bloomberg reported Chairman of China Mobile Wang Jianzhou said Steve Jobs had “expressed his interest in an LTE iPhone and is willing to start the development at an early date.” China Mobile is the world’s largest mobile phone provider, with more than 600 million subscribers. China Mobile is currently in the process of large-scale testing of TD-LTE networks in several large cities.
It’s also rumored China Mobile may be getting the next generation of iPhone for its TD-SCDMA network. That makes sense for Apple, as the company has explicitly stated China is a major focus for future growth. However, it’s unlikely LTE networks will reach maturity in China by even the end of 2012, unlike in the U.S. Since coverage should be quite good by 2012, we can very likely expect an LTE iPhone to debut in the U.S. next year. For that reason, the rumored iPhone 4S for this fall will be the first model I pass on. How about you?