Tuesday, November 27, 2007

AT&T Wireless Upgrades and the Second Generation iPhone

A small article in the Springfield, MA Saturday Republican paper caught my eye. AT&T has been quietly updating their cell phone towers to 3G in Massachusetts along with 220 other metropolitan areas in other parts of the country. Just last week the company updated 30 towers in the Western part of the state with plans to do the New Bedford area next. Both Boston and the Worcester area have also been upgraded.

3G technologies provide approximately 144 Kilo-bits per second (Kbps) to around 2.4 Mega-bits per second (Mbps) to mobile devices like cell phones and non-mobile devices like computers. For AT&T, 3G is a significant upgrade from the current EDGE network which, according to PCWorld, averages around 109 Kbps.

EDGE is commonly referred to as "2.75G" (between 2nd and 3rd generation) and has been the source of a lot of discussion with regards to the iPhone. Many questioned Apple's decision to go with AT&T/EDGE and have debated why Apple did not go with a 3G option for the iPhone. Steve Jobs has always said the decision to go with EDGE instead of 3G was based on battery life. Here's a quote from Steve jobs in a piece from MacNN:

"The 3G chipsets that are available to semiconductors work reasonably well except for power. They are real power hogs," .... "So as you know, the handset battery life used to be 5-6 hours for GSM, but when we got to 3G they got cut in half. Most 3G phones have battery lives of 2-3 hours [of talk time]."

There have been rumors (see Mathew Millers post at The Mobile Gadgeteer here ) going around since the current iPhone was announced in January that the next generation iPhone would be 3G capable. People have also been questioning whether the current iPhone has both an EDGE radio and a 3G radio built in, which would allow current iPhones to software update to the faster 3G network as the network becomes available.These rumors have pretty much died out after people have taken iPhones apart and have not been able to find an upgradeable radio.

Some complain about EDGE network performance with the iPhone but this has not been an issue with me personally. Perhaps it is because of the places I find myself at - I may be unique - I find myself on a WiFi network probably 90% of the time with the iPhone. The 10% of the time I'm not on a WiFi connection I'm usually checking email, looking up directions on a map or searching for a phone number on the web. On these occasions the EDGE network performance/bandwidth has been fine for me.

Is this 3G build-out by AT&T in (at least partial) preparation for a 3G enabled second generation iPhone? Partial is the key word here but i would say yes - it's time to move to 3G. I'm excited to see what Apple comes out with for the second generation iPhone and it will be interesting to see (if it is 3G enabled) how the battery life issue is dealt with. My bet right now would be on a multi-mode EDGE/3G/WiFi second generation iPhone that would operate on all three types of wireless networks. Time will tell!

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