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4/25/2008
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Apple's 3G iPhone Coming June 9, Analysts Say

"D-Day for 3G" is expected at Steve Jobs' WWDC keynote, where analysts also expect announcements about a refresh of Apple's laptop line by August and a new iPod line by September.

It's no secret that Apple and AT&T are planning to introduce a 3G iPhone sometime in the future, but now evidence is mounting that the formal unveiling will be at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference on June 9.

In a report issued Thursday, Citi investment research analysts Richard Gardner and Yeechang Lee suggest hopes are high for the announcement and refer to the date as "D-Day for 3G."

"We expect a steady stream of new products beginning on 9 June (the likely date for Steve Jobs' keynote at the Worldwide Developers Conference) with a 3G iPhone and iPhone/iPod touch SDK, continuing with a refresh of the complete laptop line in July/August and concluding with a complete refresh of the iPod line in August/September," Gardner said in the report to investors.

A representative with Apple was initially unavailable to comment on the report. Apple does not typically talk about products before they are released.

A possible 3G iPhone announcement during Steve Jobs' keynote is not unlikely. Several sources are suggesting the same. For example, AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson promised a new 3G iPhone sometime in 2008. In March, Apple and AT&T stock jumped up after a Bank of America analyst research report about the third-generation phone indicated that an announcement could come by the end of June.

Another indicator of a June 9 "D-Day" for a 3G iPhone are reports that AT&T has delayed the launch of the BlackBerry 9000 from June to August to allow the iPhone launch to take center stage.

So can iPhone fans who have suffered through the slow speed of AT&T's EDGE network look forward to a speedy UMTS/HSDPA network? AT&T's advanced network is available in 272 metro areas and runs along the 700-MHz spectrum. The UMTS/HSDPA network initially will support data speeds of up to 3.6 Mbps.

However, with a new network in place, consumers may question whether the offering will be backward compatible. Current iPhone owners also will want to know if they'll be able to use the 3G network.

"An iPhone using UMTS/HSDPA will operate at much higher data rates and cover wider geographical areas" than current iPhone models, network spectrum expert Joe Nordgaard said in an interview Friday. "AT&T has been rolling out UMTS/HSDPA for a long time now."

In a sense, a UMTS/HSDPA network will just be a stop on the way to a superfast LTE network. In recent months, AT&T has bought wide swathes of spectrum that are expected eventually to be used for LTE.

In announcing AT&T's first-quarter financial statement earlier this week, Stephenson, who has said the iPhone will be a cornerstone around which AT&T will build its future, cited the advantages of the new spectrum. "AT&T is moving quickly to create the next generation of wireless," he said. "The future of wireless has never been more promising, and I am very pleased that through our transaction with Aloha Partners and our successful bids in the recently completed auction, we have assembled the industry's premier, high-quality wireless spectrum position. This spectrum will provide a terrific foundation for new wireless and integrated services, and it significantly advances AT&T's long-term growth potential."

Nordgaard, who is managing director of wireless consulting firm Spectral Advantage, noted that he has no inside knowledge of Apple's or AT&T's plans, but the capability of the UMTS/HSDPA spectrum will dictate some paths the companies will likely take. (IPhone users have been able to get relatively high-speed access on their handsets through their Wi-Fi capability.)

"Given Apple's reputation for user-friendliness, I would expect them to have some capability for current iPhone customers" to access UMTS/HSDPA, he said, adding that the use of the UMTS/HSDPA networks could offer possibilities for the 3G phones to utilize networks in the United States and Europe. Nordgaard said there are frequency differences between the two continents, but they are slight enough that workarounds might be able to be built to make iPhone usage compatible on both sides of the Atlantic.

Michael Singer contributed to this report.

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