Collecting and analyzing the rumors surrounding Apple's 2013 iPhone line, we explore the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C cellular, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi radios
The iPhone is an amazing piece of technology in many, many ways, and a lot of those ways are predicated entirely on the radios, on being connected. It's that persistent connection, to the internet and to other devices - the connection of things - that makes it so powerful, that will make the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C so powerful. Whether those radios, for cellular networking, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi get upgrades this year remains a question, as does whether or not a near-field communications (NFC) chip will ever make an appearance in an Apple product.
iPhone 5S: Taking Wi-Fi to 802.11ac, still no NFC
Apple takes its time when it comes to cellular radios. The original iPhone supported only 2.5G, popularly referred to as EDGE. It wasn't until the 2008 iPhone 3G that Apple added UMTS/HSPA 3.6 networking (the number stood for the theoretical maxing megabits per second). In 2009, the iPhone 3GS doubled that to HSPA 7.2, in 2011 the iPhone 4 added EVDO rev A, slow as it was, for Verizon in U.S., and later, the iPhone 4S doubled it again to HSPA 14.4. Then, in 2012, the iPhone 5 got DC-HSPA 42 and LTE, with a theoretical speed of 100 mbps, depending on the carrier implementation.
There's no simultaneous voice and date with LTE, that means the GSM iPhone drops down to HSPA+ when on a call, and because EVDO Rev A doesn't support simultaneous voice and data either, the CDMA iPhone simply drops data. Apple could solve this as other manufacturers have, by including dual radios for voice and data, but because Apple prioritizes battery life and thinness, it's unlikely they'd take approach.
VoLTE (Voice over LTE) should solve this eventually. Until carriers move from circuit switched to packet switched voice, however, and go to purely IP-based networks, the ever radio-conservative Apple will feel no pressure to follow suit. Since LTE data is fragmented over 40 odd frequency segments around the world, however, it's possible Apple could adopt a chipset that can address more of those segments on a single model. Apple currently has 3 models globally. A newer, better chipset could either allow them to reduce that number, or to shift one of them over. For example, to something that supports Chinese TD-LTE.
Likewise, LTE Advanced, which has been rumored for the iPhone 5S, and supports channel bonding for even greater theoretical speeds - 150 mbps - has been deployed in very few places. So, while Apple could support it for markets like Korea, that's not how Apple has traditionally handled radio technology.
NanoSIM won't go anywhere either. Apple likely wants to get rid of it for an internal, customizable solution, but carriers throw fits over stuff like that.
Unlike the Macs, the iPhone trudged from the original's 802.11b/g support in 2007 to 802.11n on 2.4MHz only for the iPhone 4 in 2010 to 802.11n on both 2.4 and 5MHz for the iPhone 5 only last year. Earlier this year, however, Apple not only introduced a new MacBook Air supporting the much faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, but they introduced new AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule routers on 802.11ac as well. While nothing's a lock until Apple announces it, 802.11ac for the iPhone 5S certainly seems possible at this point. That should make it up to 3x faster, and give it better range, than current 802.11n devices as well.
The iPhone 3G got the U.S. assisted Global Positioning System (aGPS) in 2008, and the iPhone 4S added the Russian Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) in 2011. Not much more to expect there. Likewise, when it comes to Bluetooth, the original iPhone started off with Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR (enhanced data rate) in 2007. The iPhone 3GS went to Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR in 2009, and the iPhone 4S leapt forward to Bluetooth 4.0 in 2011. That's pretty much as good as Bluetooth gets at the moment, supporting both high speed (HS) and low energy (LE) technology.