Apple seen readying huge Wi-Fi boost for iPod Touch, iPhone

Apple seems to be laying the groundwork to introduce high-capacity, low-power 802.11n Wi-Fi to the iPod Touch, and presumably to its 3G-enabled companion, the iPhone.

The change would be a huge jump in performance for users of both devices, which now use a Wi-Fi chip that supports 802.11b/g, with a throughput of less than 25Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. But the change would almost certainly mean having to buy a new Touch or iPhone with the 11n chip, and some observers say Apple also needs to upgrade the CPU to enable both handhelds to fully exploit 11n performance.

Speculation about 11n support has been rife. But programmers sifting through the recently unveiled beta code of the iPhone 3.0 operating system uncovered some radio component specifications that show a shift to a different Broadcom Wi-Fi chip, the BCM4329, for a future iPod Touch model.

The 3.0 firmware is due to be released this summer, and speculation is circulating that it may coincide with new models of the iPhone 3G and iPod Touch.

Announced last December, the highly integrated Broadcom chip combines a complete 802.11 a/b/g/n system (MAC/baseband/radio) with Bluetooth 2.1 + Enhanced Data Rate, and an FM radio receiver and transmitter. It supports both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. (A detailed vendor spec sheet is available here.)

The dual-band support is important: It lets the device connect to existing Wi-Fi networks at their maximum 54Mbps data rate for 11g on 2.4GHz or 11a on 5GHz. But it also opens up the option of exploiting the much higher 11n data rate in the much less crowded 5GHz band. Wireless LANs based on Apple's AirPort Extreme base station, and the AirPort Express portable unit, could be segmented to handle future 11n iPhone and Touch clients on 5GHz, while keeping 11b/g devices on the 2.4GHz band.

Because the Broadcom chip is aimed at mobile devices, it supports only one data stream and one antenna, instead of the more conventional two or three streams, each with a corresponding antenna. So the chip's throughput tops out at about 50Mbps, with a typical range of 30M to 50Mbps, according to Broadcom. Even so, that's a big jump over what users can realize today with 11g and 11a.

One of the key design goals was to reduce power consumption. Broadcom used a number of techniques to cut the chip's active and idle power consumption, minimizing the drain on the device's battery. Depending on how well Broadcom has done that, the chip may take no more power to deliver twice the throughput, or possibly use even less.

The initial usefulness of mobile 11n may be somewhat limited, according to Glenn Fleishman, editor of Wi-Fi Net News. That's because the existing iPhone (and other similar mobile devices) lack a CPU that can process that gush of data from a faster Wi-Fi connection, he wrote in March.

But single-stream 11n will let users quickly load or unload a ton of content, such as movie files, pictures, and video, a much better alternative than "having to fiddle with iTunes or sync software on a USB-connected computer," according to Fleishman. Another benefit he noted: 11n acts as a high-capacity, direct conduit to Internet-based storage and processing, a link that's likely to become increasingly important to mobile users.

Even now, Wi-Fi is widely and heavily used by iPhone customers. Last December, a survey by AdMob, the world's biggest mobile ad network, found that more than 40% of recent U.S. traffic between iPhones and the network's 6,000 ad partners passed over Wi-Fi connections, not over AT&T's cellular network. That compares to 10-20% of the traffic from other Wi-Fi-equipped smartphones.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags AppleiPhoneWi-Fi3g802.11n

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Cox

Network World
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?