Ask Techland: If the iPhone 5 Is 4G, Why Is Talk Time Rated as 3G?

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Apple

Question:

I’m confused about talk times on the new iPhone. Will it use the 4G network for voice or just data? The specs show 3G talk times for battery life. I thought 3G was going away.

Doug Answers:

This is a great, straightforward question with a complicated, technical answer.

The short version is that the iPhone 5 does indeed use 3G voice channels for voice calls and 4G channels for data, mostly because 4G voice channels aren’t quite ready to go yet here in the U.S.

The long version has been explained in great detail at AnandTech.com, the very-excellent and in-depth hardware site. The explanation is actually an off-shoot of another question that came about shortly after the iPhone 5 announcement: Why doesn’t the iPhone 5 support simultaneous voice and data on Verizon or Sprint? That’s long been a selling point for AT&T — which supports simultaneous iPhone voice and data – that hasn’t been overcome by Sprint or Verizon yet.

Apple‘s Natalie Kerris told the New York Times that it wasn’t possible to stuff the ability to handle concurrent CDMA (the technology used by Verizon and Sprint) voice calls and LTE data onto a single chip. Apple would have had to add an extra antenna to the Verizon and Sprint versions of the iPhone 5. The Times‘ Brian X. Chen sums it up nicely: “Leaving that third antenna out allows Apple to simplify the process of manufacturing the iPhone for multiple carriers. Plus, in the next two years, 4G LTE technology is supposed to evolve to support voice calls, which would render another antenna unnecessary.”

That last bit is important. Basically, 4G LTE voice capabilities are on the way but it’ll take some time for widespread adoption to occur. Given that Apple waited this long to roll out an iPhone that harnesses a 4G LTE data connection, it’s almost certain that the company is going to wait for 4G LTE technology to evolve even more before it adds newer voice capabilities.

The downside, for now, is that the new iPhone won’t do “HD Voice”-type calls like some other smartphones (see Sascha Segan’s PCMag.com article for a good explanation). I experienced HD Voice in Sprint’s new HTC Evo 4G LTE smartphone and it did a great job of filtering out background noise, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a make-or-break feature yet – especially since whomever you’re talking to will also have to have an HD Voice-capable phone. Verizon is rolling out a feature similar to Sprint’s HD Voice known as VoLTE, or “voice over LTE.”

So the upside is that 3G voice still works fine for most people and it’ll continue to be the standard for quite a while. As Segan succinctly notes, “VoLTE is the future, and most global carriers will be going there over the next two years, including Sprint, eventually. It’ll be a carrier requirement, so the iPhone will support it eventually. Look for simultaneous voice and data on Verizon and possibly Sprint in the iPhone 6 or 7.”

MORE: 4G Reality Check: Here’s Where a 4G LTE iPhone Would Actually Matter
Have a question? Send it to tips-at-techland-dot-com and we’ll do our best to answer it.

8 comments
Raj Shah
Raj Shah

I am a big fan of smart phone but the major issue is battery life. Even with 2200mAh battery , Galaxy 3 will run out of battery in 2 to 3 hrs if you play video game or watch movie on your phone with LTE connection. Iphone5 has only 1440mAh battery and LTE connection? Not sure if 8 hr claim will hold.  But I found a great charging solution that will double my battery life and perform wireless charging in HALF the time.

check out the innovative case charger at APTUSPOWER.COM

Raj Shah
Raj Shah

The key is what would be battery life with new Iphone 5 with LTE !!. Samsung galaxy has very limited battery life when you use 4G LTE even with 220mAH battery. Iphone5 has only 1140mAh battery. I found the battery solution on www.Aptuspower.com. They have the technology to double the battery life and charge the  phone wireless in half the time.

RedMercury
RedMercury

Okay, so let me get this straight.

The reason that Apple doesn't support CDMA Voice/LTE Data simultaneously is that they'd have to add another antenna and controller chip which would make it difficult for them to manufacture those phones.

And, as a consumer, the reason I care is?

Somehow Samsung managed to do this with the Galaxy S3.  Somehow HTC managed to do it with the EVO.  But Apple--that amazingly innovative company--has to say, "Nope, sorry.  Can't be done!"

It reminds me of Apple's excuse for not having a user replaceable battery.  They claim by not having to deal with that gives them the ability to make thin phones.  Yet Samsung made a phone thinner than the iPhone 4 and somehow managed to include a user-replaceable battery.

PrinceHall
PrinceHall

Samsung and HTC manufacture most of their phones from plastic, not one single piece of metal such as the iphone.  With apple desiring to stay within certain specs for phone dimensions its not that big of a deal not having dual voice/data, considering verizon and sprint customers won't know what they're missing since it's never been possible on those networks.  ATamp;T customers will actually be able to enjoy dual voice and data as they always have been.

pa314
pa314

Great article, but I'm getting conflicting information. You say that "the new iPhone won’t do HD Voice-type calls" but at least two Canadian providers are saying that it does. See http://www.iphoneincanada.ca/i...

Do they know something you don't? Or is it the other way around?

pa314
pa314

Great article, but I'm getting conflicting information. You say that "the new iPhone won’t do HD Voice-type calls" but at least two Canadian providers are saying that it does. See http://www.iphoneincanada.ca/i...

Do they know something you don't? Or is it the other way around?

Webcurd
Webcurd

Apple should have  come up with phenomenal stuff but they still have managed to make people happy ..... Samsung Galaxy is eating iPhone market slowly slowly ...lets see what happens !!!!

AdamChew
AdamChew

Samsung eating Apple's lunch?

Wonder why they need to run ads comparing their slll with the yet to be available iPhone 5.