Apple Looking to Hire LTE Field Test Engineers

While most believe that the next-generation iPhone, the iPhone 5, will not sport Long-Term Evolution (LTE) hardware, the evidence that Apple isn't wasting any time testing it continues to build.

Earlier, evidence that carriers were testing LTE-based iPhones using a build of iOS 5 was spied in a .plist file in one of the latest iOS 5 beta builds. Additionally, leaked images showed LTE test equipment installed at a "major" Apple store.

The latest evidence is an Apple job listing on LinkedIn for field test engineers with experience with LTE. Field testing means exactly what it sounds like: testing in the field, outside. Now, AT&T hasn't even unveiled its LTE network yet, although it has announced the first five cities that will get it, as well as its first devices (no handsets).

Verizon, on the other hand, launched its LTE service last December and now has three handsets that support the 4G service available (Samsung Droid Charge, HTC Thunderbolt, LG Revolution).

Just a few days ago, Verizon announced its LTE service now covers half the population of the U.S. To be clear, half the population doesn't mean half the U.S. Verizon has focused its rollout, as you might expect, in heavily populated urban areas.

LTE's 4G service offers far faster data transfers than 3G or the faux 4G HSPA+. That's undeniable, based on many tests, and the only worry is that as Verizon LTE devices start to "stack up," the speed might slow due to congestion. So far, there's been no sign that anything like that is even beginning to start, and it's unclear it ever will.

While all this testing and experimentation is going on, there's not much chance that Apple's iPhone 5 will sport LTE. For one, Steve Jobs is wild about battery life, and current generation LTE chipsets are notorious for spending battery power.

Apple is believed to be focusing on the upcoming Qualcomm MDM9615 for its LTE chipset, which was announced in February and is said to start "sampling" in late 2011. A roadmap for Qualcomm's 2011 - 2012 product line was leaked in July pinpointed the release of the MDM9615 for Q2 2012, which would probably be good timing for the iPhone 6.

That chipset should sort out a number of issues, including real estate and battery life. By then, LTE on both AT&T and Verizon should be burgeoning. But don't expect it in the 2011 version of the iPhone. In fact, it's unclear if the iPhone 5 will even sport HSPA+ 4G. That said, there's a possibility that the iPad 3, which the latest rumors say is coming in early 2012, might sport LTE.

The iPad, with its larger battery, could probably take the battery life hit that a first-generation LTE chipset would entail, without disappointing consumers (and Steve Jobs) too much. It also makes a lot more sense to put LTE on a tablet, rather than a data-sipping smartphone, first.
Tags:  Apple, iPhone, LTE, ipad