iPhone 4S or iPhone 5? No 4G LTE this time around

Upgrading the iPhone to 4G LTE technology has been something of a stumbling block for Apple (AAPL), and the latest rumors out of Asia where the phones are manufactured suggests this isn’t the year for the technology either.

According to a story from DigiTimes (which is admittedly not all that reliable), the trouble is with Qualcomm (QCOM), the maker of chipsets for iPhones. Qualcomm’s yield of LTE chips for the next iPhone hasn’t lived up to what’s necessary to roll out the phone full-scale. Rather than wait or delay it more, Apple will release a more incremental update to the iPhone 4: It’ll be a lot like the differences between the iPhone 3G and 3GS, and the phone coming later this year is believed to include the A5 dual-core processor that Apple introduced in the iPad 2.

Digitimes’ information backs up what we’ve been hearing for a while now: namely, that the phone coming this year, and now likely in September, will be called something akin to the iPhone 4S and that it won’t be far and away different from the iPhone 4.

From what we’re hearing, the 4S will also carry an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera, an edge-to-edge screen and, possibly, HSPA+ support for GSM networks, according to Slash Gear. The current iPhone is capable of HSPA, which would make data move faster on the device, though not quite as fast as what is traditionally labeled “4G.” That may change based on some marketing materials from AT&T (T), however, which suggest the company is lowering its standards of what it is selling as 4G to existing phones with HSPA technology. Rumors are flying that the next iPhone will be dubbed “4G” because of this HSPA technology, though it won’t be as powerful as fast as the 4G devices currently showing up on the Verizon network, for example.

Apple had trouble going 4G LTE with the iPhone 4 last year, too, because of standards not met with Qualcomm chips. Back then, the LTE chips were too big and bulky to fit the iPhone 4’s design, so Apple went with 3G cell phone radios instead, according to Slash Gear.

While the lack of a major iPhone update might be upsetting to some users, the DigiTimes story suggests Apple won’t mind disappointing its customers so much this year. In China, three major wireless carriers are bucking to pick up the iPhone: China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicorn. China Mobile is expected to reach an agreement with Apple about picking up the iPhone 4S-whatever by as early as September.

Here’s what DigiTimes’ source says on the matter:

“By the end of 2011, the number of 3G mobile subscribers in China is expected to top over 61.9 million, of which 26.99 million subscribers will use China Mobile’s TD-SCDMA networks, the sources noted.”

Those are some big numbers. A whole lot of new iPhone owners in China, who would obviously be heading straight to the iTunes App Store to grab some cool things for their iPhones to do right after they buy them, would be a big shot in the arm for Apple. If sales of a not-so-improved iPhone linger in the U.S. and other countries come September, it wouldn’t be nearly as big a deal.

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