New iPhones, same old limit on talk-and-surf

There’s bad news for iPhone fans on Verizon and Sprint’s networks: Apple’s newest smartphones have the same problem as its old ones with talking and surfing at the same time.

Users of the Sprint and Verizon versions of the new iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C won’t be able to talk on the phone and access the Internet simultaneously while connected to those companies’ networks, according to Apple. That’s the same shortcoming found in previous versions of the iPhone and one that has frustrated the phone’s fans on those networks.

There was some hope that Apple would fix the problem on the new phones. Both the 5S and the 5S have much more capable cellular radios than last year’s iPhone 5. But apparently they have the same basic problem: a lack of a second radio with which to handle data traffic.

The talking-and-surfing problem stems is related to the types of networks that both Verizon and Sprint operate. Both companies’ older 3G networks are based on CDMA-technology, which generally doesn’t support the ability simultaneous voice and data transmissions. Both companies’  are moving to newer 4G LTE networks, which should eventually solve the problem.

But right now, there’s no standard for sending voice transmissions over LTE, so voice signals instead travel over the 3G network. That generally would mean that you’d be back to the situation where you can’t talk and surf at the same time, because the 3G network doesn’t support it.

However, other phones, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S4 are able to get around the limitation by incorporating a second cellular radio. While the first radio switches to 3G to make a call, the phone can use the second radio to connect to the Internet.

Apple’s iPhone 5 lacked a second radio and it looks like the iPhone 5S and 5C will lack one too.

There are ways around the problem, though. Verizon iPhone users can talk and surf simultaneously if they are connected to a WiFi hotspot. In that case, the phone will use the WiFi connection to access the Internet. And they can also potentially talk and surf if they use a voice-over-IP app like Skype instead of placing calls over the cell phone companies’ voice networks.

Photo courtesy of Apple.

Troy Wolverton Troy Wolverton (280 Posts)

Troy writes the Tech Files column as the Personal Technology Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. He also covers the digital media, mobile and video game industries and writes occasionally about Apple, chips, social networking and other aspects of technology. Previously, Troy covered Apple and the consumer electronics industry. Prior to joining the Mercury News, Troy reported on technology, business and financial issues for TheStreet.com and CNET News.com.