Inside Apple's iPhone 4S and its improved antenna: 'S' is for Signal

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
The new iPhone 4S features a redesigned antenna design that allows for better reception and faster wireless data speeds, a tweak that should further distance Apple from the "antennagate" controversy that occurred around the launch of the iPhone 4.



Leading up to Friday's launch of the iPhone 4S, AppleInsider will offer a closer look at some of the features of the next-generation handset. Given that the 'S' in the device's moniker was never officially defined by Apple, we offer five potential definitions. Today: 'S' is for Signal, with a newly redesigned antenna.



'Antennagate:' A brief history



Soon after the release of the iPhone 4 in 2010, it was discovered that covering the bottom left of the phone, where two separate antennas meet, could reduce cellular reception with the device. In low-signal situations, this could result in a dropped call.



The ensuing media firestorm prompted Apple to uncharacteristically hold a special press conference last July, where the company announced it would give away free cases to iPhone 4 customers for a limited time.



The controversy stemmed from the fact that the iPhone 4 has a unique design where the metal edges of the device also serve as its antenna. Any reception issues could be resolved by adding a case to the phone, which prevented users' skin from touching the antenna and causing signal attenuation.



Apple also noted that competing smartphones experience similar issues with reception, and shared videos on its website showing decreased reception when holding a BlackBerry Bold 9700, HTC Droid Eris, Samsung Omnia II, and even the iPhone 3GS.



For all the noise around it, the so-called "antennagate" didn't prove to be much of an issue for consumers. Apple eventually removed its website created in response to the controversy, and ended its free case program. The iPhone 4 went on to become Apple's best selling smartphone in the company's history, achieving a record 20.34 million sales last quarter alone.



With "antennagate" now well behind it, Apple has introduced a tweaked antenna on its iPhone 4S handset -- a modified, multifunctional design that promises better reception and even faster data transfer speeds.







An 'intelligent' antenna



In its promotional materials, Apple has stated that the iPhone 4S is "the first phone to intelligently switch between two antennas to transmit and receive, so call quality is better." However, the company has not gone into great detail to explain exactly how the dual-antenna system works.



In his review of the iPhone 4S, Jim Dalrymple of The Loop noted that the dual-antenna design is exclusive to Apple, and in his experience it boosted signal not only on calls, but also general reception.



"To be perfectly clear -- this is an Apple-only technology," he wrote. "While other companies can receive on dual antennas, no other company can transmit and receive on dual GSM and CDMA antennas."







Scpencer Webb, CEO of antenna design firm AntennaSys, told Gizmodo that he thinks that Apple may have come up with a unique algorithm for distributing antenna signals for the iPhone 4S. With this, Apple could implement a selective processing method where the handset would choose the better signal offered by the phone's two antennas, all while meeting radio-frequency emission requirements from the Federal Communications Commission.



While Apple has promised the new antenna will improve reception and call quality, it won't be a fix-all for network woes. For example, Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal found in his testing on AT&T's network that he still experienced a number of dropped calls. However, a colleague testing identical iPhone 4S hardware on Verizon's network experienced no such problems.



But Edward Baig of USA Today said he din't experience any dropped calls in his testing of the iPhone 4S on AT&T's network. He described call quality with the iPhone 4S as "generally quite good."







HSDPA speeds, world phone for GSM roaming



Improvements to the iPhone 4S antenna don't stop with its proprietary dual-antenna technology. Changes to the design of the phone have also made it HSDPA compatible.



That means that maximum download speeds on an HSDPA GSM network are up to 14.4Mbps. That's double the maximum speed of 7.2Mbps possible with the iPhone 4.



HSDPA speeds can, under the right circumstances, be comparable to some true 4G LTE networks. In his testing of the iPhone 4S, Mossberg said he experienced 4G speeds in areas where AT&T has deployed its HSDPA network.



"In numerous tests at three different locations in the Washington suburbs, I averaged download speeds of nearly 7 megabits per second -- better than in prior tests on Sprint and T-Mobile 4G phones," he wrote.







While 4G-like speeds may be possible in some areas with GSM carriers like AT&T, the upgrade does not apply for customers of CDMA carriers, like Verizon and Sprint in the U.S. Verizon customers who upgrade from an iPhone 4S, for example, will achieve the same speeds as with the iPhone 4.



Because of this, AT&T is believed to be pushing Apple to add a "4G" indicator to the iPhone 4S status bar. However, AT&T's HSDPA network is not "true" 4G long-term evolution, or LTE.



Beyond additional speed for some, the new iPhone 4S design and accompanying antenna will allow for more flexibility. The iPhone 4S is a "world phone," which means that both GSM and CDMA customers will be able to roam worldwide on GSM networks.



Previously, if a customer bought the CDMA-only iPhone 4, released on Verizon's network earlier this year, they could not roam outside of the country, such as in Europe where CDMA networks are not common. The inclusion of both GSM and CDMA radios in the iPhone 4S will allow those customers to use their handset worldwide more easily.



For more, see the previous installments of AppleInsider's "Inside Apple's iPhone 4S" series, included below:



Inside Apple's iPhone 4S and its A5 CPU: 'S' is for Speed



Inside Apple's iPhone 4S and its 8MP camera: 'S' is for Shutter



Inside Apple's iPhone 4S: 'S' is for Siri voice recognition
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 40
    "S is for 'There won't be an iPhone 5, for heaven's sake.', that's good enough for me,

    S is for 'There won't be an iPhone 5, for heaven's sake.', that's good enough for me,

    S is for 'There won't be an iPhone 5, for heaven's sake.', that's good enough for me, oh,



    Seriously, there won't be an iPhone 5."



    Not quite the ring to it of the original.



    So how long before Consumer Reports claims the 4S has the same problem as the 4?
  • Reply 2 of 40
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post


    "S is for 'There won't be an iPhone 5, for heaven's sake.', that's good enough for me,

    [...]

    Seriously, there won't be an iPhone 5."



    What are they going to call the next iPhone then? iPhone FCP X
  • Reply 3 of 40
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by mstone View Post


    What are they going to call the next iPhone then? iPhone FCP X



    iPhone 6? iPhone 4G?
  • Reply 4 of 40
    bagmanbagman Posts: 349member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post


    So how long before Consumer Reports claims the 4S has the same problem as the 4?



    Isn't it obvious - the report will come quicker, due to the faster speed, allowing CR to spend less time in "testing" than before.



    Of course, CR will not recommend it, but will once again list it as the best phone on the market.



    CR will go on to recommend smoke signals, postal telegraph, and pony express as the preferred methods, due to less dropped "calls".
  • Reply 5 of 40
    Thank god for an improved antenna!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Reply 6 of 40
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post


    "So how long before Consumer Reports claims the 4S has the same problem as the 4?



    Hopefully never. I'm looking forward to being able to finally hold a call in my house again.....which I could always do with my original and 3GS phones. My 4 drops calls constantly at the house.
  • Reply 7 of 40
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post




    So how long before Consumer Reports claims the 4S has the same problem as the 4?





    If there is no issue why would they say it has an issue? I don't get it.



    They improved the antenna design for a reason.
  • Reply 8 of 40
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,575member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post


    "S is for 'There won't be an iPhone 5, for heaven's sake.', that's good enough for me,

    S is for 'There won't be an iPhone 5, for heaven's sake.', that's good enough for me,

    S is for 'There won't be an iPhone 5, for heaven's sake.', that's good enough for me, oh,



    Seriously, there won't be an iPhone 5."



    Sure there will.
  • Reply 9 of 40
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AbsoluteDesignz View Post


    They improved the antenna design for a reason.



    They improved the processor, camera, memory, signaling chips, the OS, and everything else except the screen. Were all those updates also due to flaws as you appear to be implying the reason for the antenna redesign was.
  • Reply 10 of 40
    muppetrymuppetry Posts: 3,328member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by JupiterOne View Post


    Hopefully never. I'm looking forward to being able to finally hold a call in my house again.....which I could always do with my original and 3GS phones. My 4 drops calls constantly at the house.



    Any chance that your 4 is simply a faulty unit?
  • Reply 11 of 40
    muppetrymuppetry Posts: 3,328member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AbsoluteDesignz View Post


    If there is no issue why would they say it has an issue? I don't get it.



    They improved the antenna design for a reason.



    Yes, but something doesn't necessarily have to be faulty for it to be improved. Continual improvement is what all these companies are striving for.
  • Reply 12 of 40
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by paxman View Post


    Sure there will.



    No there won't because of this, the "5" will have zero meaning. It won't be 5th generation and "5" means nothing in terms of telephony, so why name something iPhone 5?



    iPhone = 1st generation

    iPhone 3G = 2nd gen., named after the 3G networks it can now use

    iPhone 3GS = 3rd gen., "S" said to stand for speed as it was nearly identical to iPhone 3G but considerably faster

    iPhone 4 = 4th gen. and named as such

    iPhone 4S = 5th gen., near identical exterior design as iPhone 4 but with extensive upgrades inside such as CPU, GPU, BT, Camera, world phone, antennae...



    iPhone "5" = 6th gen...so why call it "5"?



    Face it, the iPhone 5 is a unicorn, big foot, Loch Ness monster... doesn't exist.
  • Reply 13 of 40
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AbsoluteDesignz View Post


    If there is no issue why would they say it has an issue? I don't get it.



    They did it with the iPhone 4. No reason they wouldn't do it again.



    Quote:

    They improved the antenna design for a reason.



    Since that reason wasn't Antennagate, would you mind explaining what it is?



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by paxman View Post


    Sure there will.



    So the 6th generation iPhone that will have an A6 processor and ship with iOS 6 will be called the iPhone 5.



    This is your belief. This.
  • Reply 14 of 40
    bilbo63bilbo63 Posts: 285member
    This whole situation was not an issue for me at all. My iPhone works great in a case, not in a case. I have to squeeze the phone to make the signal go down.



    I'm not saying that there wasn't room for some improvement with the antennae, my opinion is that this was blown waaaaaaay out of proportion.
  • Reply 15 of 40
    Why do we need to come up with so many names for the "S"? I get it that AppleInsider is just being cute, but I see this all over on other sites too.



    S is for Steve, S is for Speed, S is for Siri, ...........
  • Reply 16 of 40
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Bagman View Post


    Isn't it obvious - the report will come quicker, due to the faster speed, allowing CR to spend less time in "testing" than before.



    Of course, CR will not recommend it, but will once again list it as the best phone on the market.



    CR will go on to recommend smoke signals, postal telegraph, and pony express as the preferred methods, due to less dropped "calls".



    I don't even want to think about pony express droppings
  • Reply 17 of 40
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AbsoluteDesignz View Post


    If there is no issue why would they say it has an issue? I don't get it.



    They improved the antenna design for a reason.



    CR said the Verizon model had same problem and wouldn't recommend it, while other testers reported the Apple had fixed the antenna issue with the CDMA model.



    They improved the antenna design because CDMA carriers require receive diversity, where GSM doesn't. So Apple had to improve it with the Verizon iPhone. Now, Apple has brought it GSM with 4S, and even further enhanced it to handle both send & receive diversity.
  • Reply 18 of 40
    ikolikol Posts: 369member
    ..... which is worse than the supposedly faulty prior antenna as it is a dirt trapper and ruins the metal sheen. A expensive piece of crap not needed anymore. I'll get a real case this time for protection not to prevent signal loss.
  • Reply 19 of 40
    ikolikol Posts: 369member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by esummers View Post


    Why do we need to come up with so many names for the "S"? I get it that AppleInsider is just being cute, but I see this all over on other sites too.



    S is for Steve, S is for Speed, S is for Siri, ...........



    S is for Stormy cloud.....
  • Reply 20 of 40
    jupiteronejupiterone Posts: 1,564member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by muppetry View Post


    Any chance that your 4 is simply a faulty unit?



    Believe me, over the year that I've had it, I've thought of that. And if I thought it was, I would have returned it long ago. But honestly, I know that my house is in a low signal area. My very old Nokia had a hard time holding a call at the house too. But when I got my original iPhone, I was so happy that I could finally make and hold calls while walking all over my house. By the time I got my 3GS, I didn't even thing about it anymore, just expected it. When the 4 came out, I held off for a few months trying to decide if the antennae problem was just overblown. And I do think it is overblown. But then I got my 4. Coming home from the Apple store, as I was walking into my house from my garage, I got my first call! I said "Hello" and my friend said "Hey, how are....." <beep><beep> and then the Call Failed message. Since then I have been able to successfully hold a call only if I'm upstairs in my loft. I can't move from there or the call drops.



    I still think everything else about the phone is wonderful and luckily, I don't have this call problem in other areas. AT&T has great coverage everywhere I go in south Florida, (except at my house, apparently). For this reason, I think that the 4's antennae has a real problem (meaning worse than the original or 3GS) with low signal areas.
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