Apple's 3G iPhone: Will Australia get the device first?

In announcing the UK launch of the iPhone, Apple CEO Steve Jobs dropped hints that a 3G iPhone is on the way. Will it debut in Australia?

In announcing the UK launch of the iPhone, Apple CEO Steve Jobs dropped hints that a 3G iPhone is on the way. Will it debut in Australia?

Speaking yesterday at the London unveiling, Jobs told journalists that the company had decided to forego 3G in the device because of concerns over battery life: "Right now you make a really big trade off going to 3G -- and that's really bad battery life," he said.

However, Jobs said that he expects an acceptable 3G battery life of five hours appearing late next year -- a hint perhaps that a 3G iPhone could be on the cards in 2008. Given the crossover between that date and the iPhone's debut in Asia Pacific, some iPhone fans have suggested that Australia will be the first to see the device in its 3G incarnation.

Analysts, however, have poured cold water on the scenario, saying Australia will have to wait -- along with the rest of the world -- for the next iteration.

Nathan Burley, analyst at Ovum, said: "It would be naïve to think there isn't one on the roadmap, but that would launch in the US before anywhere else."

Jerson Yau, research analyst at IDC, also expects Australia's first iPhone to be the same EDGE device that has been launched in the US and UK. Yau believes that Australian consumers shouldn't necessarily be put off by a lack of 3G connectivity, however.

"[Some consumers] have been so trained up to expect 3G, it doesn't matter how amazing the product is, if it doesn't come with 3G, they think it's an inferior product," he said. "On paper, EDGE networks are fairly similar to UMTS -- there's not much difference."

O2, Apple's chosen carrier for the UK, is not known for an extensive EDGE network but has promised that by the time the device launches in November it will have a 30 percent EDGE coverage. The largest EDGE network in Australia -- Telstra's -- however, will have a far broader reach. A Telstra spokesperson said that every GSM base station is also equipped with EDGE capability.

While EDGE may not be far behind UMTS -- bog standard 3G -- both analysts agree that HSPA, or 3.5G, will make a significant difference to user experience on the Apple device.

Ovum's Burley told ZDNet Australia: "It's still a good experience with EDGE but it's not a superb experience -- it would be on HSDPA ... I would say 3G is almost useless [for the iPhone], it has to be HSDPA."

The difference is a question of speed -- UMTS, the "starter" 3G, offers a download speed of around 384Kbps. In Australia today, HSDPA devices can offer a downlink around 10 times that.

IDC's Yau added that the inclusion of HSPA will give iPhone users an improved browsing experience. "You could put your browser to any site and it would work," he said.

Silicon.com's Steve Ranger contributed to this article.

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