updated 12:00 pm EDT, Sun August 8, 2010
Apple orders CDMA chips for iPhone in January
Apple is edging closer to a Verizon iPhone in January with a large order of CDMA chipsets, insiders reportedly said on Sunday. The company is queuing up "millions" of Qualcomm chipsets for a production run to start in December. The requests are coming early, TechCrunch said, as lead times for chips can often require months to generate enough supply, even when other components can be made more quickly.
It would be the same iPhone 4 design as now, the sources said, but it's speculated Apple might have an internal insulator to prevent finger contact from bridging the antennas. Any such changes would presumably reach GSM models, possibly before January.
While conservative compared to estimates of manufacturing done by the fall, the rollout would be consistent with a launch at the start of 2011. As all iPhones are currently GSM models, Apple would need to start up a separate production run to accommodate a significantly different design. A CDMA device would not only need a different chipset but would eliminate the micro SIM card slot if it's not a dual-mode device.
Qualcomm is virtually necessary in any CDMA iPhone plans. Current partners like Infineon and Skyworks often don't produce any CDMA hardware, but Qualcomm virtually dominates the category.
Critics have questioned the value of an iPhone using CDMA when the majority of carriers worldwide use GSM and even CDMA carriers plan to switch to GSM networks' 4G standard, LTE. Apple executives once saw CDMA as "dead" technology. However, most carriers switching to LTE don't expect to have significant coverage until 2012. Carriers such as Sprint and Verizon in the US, as well as China Telecom and a handful of other major international providers, still account for hundreds of millions of potentially addressable customers.
Apple is also likely eager to blunt Android's growth by putting the iPhone on networks where Google's platform was once considered safe. About half of US Android phones are on Verizon and have enjoyed sustained strong demand thanks to heavy promotion, even over Verizon's previously favored BlackBerry lineup. A CDMA iPhone would lure customers who were either deterred by the high cost of switching to AT&T or who were actively avoiding the network due to quality or support issues, especially in trouble spots such as San Francisco.