Anyone reading this site for a long time knows that LTE, also known as true 4G, is the future of the cell phone industry. Right now, both AT&T and Verizon are rolling out LTE deployments across the US, and other companies are doing the same thing around the world. LTE allows for much faster speeds, sometimes even faster than what most people get at home from a broadband connection. There are few LTE phones, but they are coming out, and in 2012, we’re expecting to see many more. But of course, right now they will mostly all be Android based. Apple made the strategic decision that the iPhone 4S would not offer this new technology.
Did Apple make a mistake on this one? Why didn’t it go ahead and add LTE support to the iPhone 4S? It’s fairly easy to find out why it’s lacking 4G, and why Apple’s decision might have been quite smart. In fact, there’s four main negatives for a phone to support LTE. First, coverage isn’t everywhere. In fact, it’s quite spotty. Right now, both major providers are adding next generation antennas in certain urban centers only. That means anywhere else in the country, even right outside these “centers”, your LTE support drops. This means for the phone to keep working, it also has to support all the other technologies such as HSPA.
Which brings us to the second reason. Apple already had to cram in both GSM and CDMA support in the iPhone 4S, making it a world phone. To add LTE, they would have had to add another set of chips, without removing anything. It would have certainly meant a bigger phone, and Apple does not add to the size or weight of a product without a very compelling reason. With this kind of coverage, it seems doubtful any Apple executive would see this as a good trade. Also, adding chips means the phone costs more. Apple products are generally seen as expensive devices, and adding to the price of the iPhone 4S is not something that would have been received well, so cost wise, LTE would have been a problem.
The last reason is the amount of power required by LTE. To use these higher speeds, the phone needs to use more processor power, and send more power to the antenna, which means the battery life starts shrinking. Worse, if you’re constantly switching between two technologies outside of the coverage zones, this drains the battery life even more. So it’s likely that even if you were lucky enough to be in a covered zone, your battery life would have taken a hit, which is again something Apple was not willing to compromise on. So knowing all that, did the company make the right decision by not adding 4G to the iPhone? We’ll know for sure by the time the next one is released, but for now it sure seems like a sensible choice.