iPhone CDMA and iPad 2: No obvious path for LTE

As predicted iPad 2 turned out to be another amazing Apple success story. There are very few brands out there that can drive the imagination of its customers as much as Apple does. Once again Apple has managed to convince a lot of people to part with their hard-earned money to get the newest and greatest gadget. They did this with incremental improvements in size, weight, processing power while keeping the price at the same level.

Another first for iPad 2 is a CDMA version is available with Verizon service plans in addition to GSM and WiFi-only models. iPad2 CDMA and iPhone CDMA that came out in February used Qualcomm chipset as opposed to the Infineon chips used in the earlier GSM versions of iPhone and iPad. Most interesting aspect was the use of Qualcomm MDM6600 as the baseband processor. MDM6600 is a GSM/UMTS/HSPA+/EV-DO multi-mode processor. Its presence in iPhone CDMA gave the impression that Apple is moving away from Infineon to consolidate around the use of Qualcomm Gobi chipset.

However, iPad 2 GSM version proved that Apple wasn’t ready to give up on Infineon for its GSM line-up. It continued to use Infineon chipset (PMB9801 for baseband and PMB5703 for transceiver). Biggest addition in iPad 2 GSM was the addition of support for UMTS band 8 (Global (except US) 900 MHz) with respect to the original iPad that had support for UMTS band 1 (Global (except US) 2100 MHz), band 2 (US 1900 MHz) and band 5 (US 850 MHz) and band 6 (Japan 800 MHz).  GSM carriers in many countries started re-farming their 2G assets for WCDMA / HSPA. This accelerated the need for supporting 900 MHz similar to iPhone 4 that came out in June 2010. Once again Apple shunned the UMTS band 4 (AWS band used by T-Mobile USA).

MDM6600 is used in Motorola Droid to enable it as a world-phone allowing Verizon customers to use their favorite handset instead of a rental when they travel outside the US. So far the world-phone concept is restricted to Verizon and Sprint. Between these two operators there are roughly two dozen world-phones. Well known examples are Blackberry Bold, Tour, Curve (all specific Verizon models), Samsung Renown, Saga, Convoy, Motorola Droid, HTC Hero, Ozone, Touch Pro 2. Majority of these handsets use Qualcomm chipsets; older ones such as Blackberry family relying on MSM7600 series while few odd devices using chipsets such QSD 8650 (LG Fathom) and QSC 8085 (Motorola Droid). However, more recent devices such as Droid Pro and more importantly iPhone CDMA version adopted MDM6600.

Considering the direction of the industry and potential products Apple can design, question is whether Apple will make a multi-mode phone and tablet in 2011? Until recently I was quite convinced iPhone 5 in June 2011 will be a world-phone using the MDM6600. However, looking at the iSuppli‘s component list comparison between GSM and CDMA versions of iPad 2, I believe there are multiple factors at play.

Here is why:

  • Baseband processor in the GSM version of iPad 2 and iPhone 4 is the Infineon PMB9801 which does not even support HSPA+. It is a HSDPA category 8 device with a peak throughput of 7.2 Mb/s compared to MDM6600 which is a category 10 device with a peak throughput of 14.4 Mb/s. Considering handsets such as HTC Thunderbolt, tablets such as Motorola Xoom use Qualcomm MDM9600 with Dual Carrier HSPA support (category 24) with a peak throughput of 42 Mb/s as well as LTE, it is hard to imagine Apple will stay with its current baseband processors beyond 2011.
  • Qualcomm has consolidated its leadership of HSPA+ support especially compared to Infineon. Infineon’s comparable chipset is XMM6260 which supports HSPA category 14 (21 Mb/s peak throughput) which starts volume production in the second quarter of this year whereas Qualcomm has multiple processors including MDM9600 and MDM8960 (HSPA+/LTE/EV-DO), MDM8220 (HSPA+) that it has been volume producing for some time.
  • Power Amplifier (PA)+ Duplexer components are as discreet as they could be. Apple uses Skyworks, Triquint and (for CDMA) Avago chips. For GSM/EDGE, Apple relies on a quad-band power amplifier (SKY77541) from Skyworks. On the other hand, for WCDMA/HSPA, for each band a separate PA+duplexer chip is used. In case of CDMA two separate PA chips and a duplexer are needed. In order to keep the phone form factor from any compromise, Apple needs to use PA+duplexer chips that are capable of multiple bands and technologies. A good example of such chips is Triquint’s Triton family (supporting both CDMA2000 and WCDMA) or Triumf family (supporting both 2G and 3G PA needs). Similarly Skyworks has multi-mode multi-band PAs such as SKY77432 or SKY77604 that support GSM/EDGE and WCDMA. Following diagram is an example implementation for a multi-mode multi-band terminal from Triquint.

Predictions:

  • iPhone 5 will not have LTE. Neither the technology adoption nor component maturity is at the right level to justify potential compromises.
  • iPhone 5 will be a world-phone using Qualcomm MDM6600. Even though Apple prefers not to change its proven designs frequently, MDM6600 is simply superior to legacy Infineon baseband processor and it simplifies GPS implementation.
  • iPhone 5 will have UMTS band 4 (AWS spectrum). This might simply be wishful thinking. 🙂
  • iPad 3 in March 2012 will have LTE support using MDM9600 or MDM8960.
  • Apple will not take advantage of integrated ARM processors in Qualcomm’s Snapdragon series. Instead it will continue to nurture its own processor line-up coupled with Qualcomm baseband processors.

For a compilation about more speculation on iPhone 5, please see the following link.

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