Apple is expected to unveil a 4G iPhone next year as competition in the LTE smartphone market heats up, according to a DigiTimes report.
Citing industry sources in Taiwan, DigiTimes says that Apple will join Nokia, RIM, and Sony Ericsson in diving into the 4G market next year as more carriers kick off LTE services around the world.
HTC, Samsung, Motorola, and LG all currently sell LTE handsets, but HTC leads the U.S. market with a 60 percent share of 4G customers, say DigiTimes' sources.
Apple has expressed some reticence about jumping onboard the LTE bandwagon in light of the technology's limitations. Announcing Apple's quarterly results in April, current CEO Tim Cook said that the first-generation LTE chipsets "force a lot of design compromises" that the company is unwilling to make.
Certain analysts have echoed Cook's concerns.
Speaking with CNET in April, Will Strauss, president of wireless chip market research firm Forward Concepts, said that chipsets for LTE phones will need to integrate 3G to cover areas where 4G is not available. And those chipsets aren't likely to hit the market until next year. More recently, Strauss said that the current implementations of LTE in phones like the HTC ThunderBolt are too kludgy for Apple's tastes.
But Strauss does see a 4G iPhone reaching consumers next year. "They're saving iPhone 5 for the LTE version and that won't be out until next spring," said Strauss.
Looking at the carriers themselves, Verizon Wireless has been speeding along with its 4G LTE network, recently announcing that it now covers more than half of the country. AT&T has lagged behind, having just turned on the LTE switch for five cities with plans to cover 15 more markets by the end of the year.
Sprint will heat up the competition in the 4G market as it rolls out its own LTE network next year. The company is aiming to launch 15 LTE-enabled mobile devices and cover more than 120 million people by the end of 2012.
A total of 185 LTE network deployments are currently in progress or being planned around the world, with 35 such networks already in place, says the Global Mobile Suppliers Association. Another 63 carriers are testing or studying LTE technology. Overall, the GSA expects more than 100 LTE networks to launch by the end of next year.
To keep up with the likely consumer demand, the number of 4G smartphones shipped annually is forecast to reach 245 million in 2016, compared with just 4.6 million last year, according to a recent report from ABI Research.