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iPhone 4's multiband antenna makes it a true 'world phone'


This morning, I read liveblogs about the WWDC keynote with growing irritation. I'd been hoping for a 64 GB capacity bump for iPhone 4, even though I knew in the back of my mind that engineering practicalities made it unlikely. The news that FaceTime will not only be WiFi only, but will also work only from one iPhone 4 to another, was also extremely disappointing. And the fact that the iPhone won't be getting down here to New Zealand until July, as opposed to June for the States, UK, and a few other countries, was probably the most annoying of all.

Then I went to the tech specs page for the iPhone 4, and like rolling fog after the sunrise, all of my irritation evaporated. Back in March, I wrote this: "Apple can put a better camera in it, add more capacity, a better processor, a front-facing camera for videoconferencing, and a dozen other things -- but quite honestly, I'd be perfectly happy if none of that made it into the next-gen iPhone so long as one feature does find its way in: support for 900 MHz UMTS/HSDPA."

According to Apple's tech specs for iPhone 4 & the FCC filing, I got my wish. Read on to find out why this unsung feature is actually a really big deal -- not just to me, but to millions of potential iPhone 4 customers.

Previous iPhones worked on three UMTS/HSDPA frequencies: 850, 1900, and 2100 MHz, which are the three main GSM 3G frequencies in the Western Hemisphere. 900 MHz UMTS/HSDPA is fairly widespread in the Eastern Hemisphere, including in New Zealand -- the only wireless provider who directly sells the iPhone here in NZ, Vodafone, operates its extended 3G network at 900 MHz. With the iPhone 3G and 3GS, this meant that the iPhone was incapable of accessing Vodafone's 3G network outside of downtown areas served by 2100 MHz networks, and it had to fall back on GPRS -- which is so slow it's nearly unusable.

iPhone 4 has a pentaband antenna/chipset (although the Apple specs page only lists four, the FCC lists five bands), meaning it works not only on the GSM frequencies the earlier iPhones did, but it also now supports 900 MHz UMTS/HSDPA. This increases the utility of the phone by a great deal for many international users, many of whom (including me) will now have access to extended 3G networks for the first time with iPhone 4. The antenna in iPhone 4 also means it's now a true "world phone" -- with access to GSM 3G over different frequencies, iPhone 4 should be able to connect to virtually any GSM 3G network in the world now (with the notable exception of T-Mobile in the US).

It's also likely iPhone 4 will have much better wireless reception than earlier iPhones because of its construction. According to the keynote, the stainless steel side casing functions as part of iPhone 4's antenna. Hopefully this will result in far fewer instances where my "smartphone" has no coverage at all while my wife's virtually featureless "dumbphone" has two or more bars. With a universal antenna and improved wireless reception, I can easily forgive the other disappointments from today's keynote.

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