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.


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  • MarcWinNJ

    I had an online chat with a VZW rep tonight. She stated that the 5S could do voice and data and confirmed that the 5 could not. It wouldn’t surprise me that the rep has no idea what she is talking about but we can only hope.

    • John Pacheco

      Mark, most likely the later. It is funny whenever i speak to Verizon or go into one of their stores, how much they are not familiar with the hardware they sell short of the operational basics.

  • John Pacheco

    Troy wondering if you can answer this questions. I have been researching and have not found anything close to an answer, however your post is the closest.

    I noticed that when Apple went from the 4S to the 5 the cellular/data radio on the 5 got worse. My carrier is Verizon, my wife has a 4S and my daughter and several other family members have 5′s. One thing i noticed is that the 4S has much better reception than the 5′s.

    I did some testing and no matter where i went as the 5 kept dropping calls, or not connecting while the 4S worked like a charm. This is also happening to other family members with 5’s.

    So I am wondering, is the radio on the 5S better? I hope so, great tech makes no difference if the transceiver to send/receive calls is not doing it’s job.


  • Greg from Nashville

    This makes tethering much less attractive, too – you’re looking at something on the computer, need to call someone, internet connection dies. My 5S will likely not be on Verizon! TMobile may get my business!

  • Why are you able to talk and surf on AT&T’s network with the iPhone, then?

    • Geoff D

      AT&T uses GSM technology. Verizon Wireless uses CDMA technology. GSM doesn’t have the design limitation of CDMA where you can’t do simultaneous voice & data from one radio. Most CDMA device that have LTE have two radios that can run simultaneously. Apple did not go down this path. Worldwide, Apple sells far more GSM phones than CDMA phones and it’s a common hardware platform. I imagine they didn’t want to burden all those GSM users with the added cost of the extra radio for LTE. It likely saved several dollars of cost off the phone. This is all about Apple’s gross profit margin on the device.

      • Thanks for the detailed explanation. I contacted Sprint via Twitter and all they said was the iPhone wouldn’t do it. I like to know why…lol.

        • cheeswiz

          Verizon uses the CDMA Network is more secure and it makes them more money. For GSM networks you just need an unlocked phone and a compatible SIM, for CDMA you need the ESN (Electronic Serial Number) from the device and this ESN needs to be registered for that network/carrier. You cannot put a Sprint phone on the Verizon network and visa verse (that is without extreme difficulty). Also the software needs to be flashed for the network if you manage to move the ESN to the new network. For the most part the Physical Hardware Security for connecting to the network is housed in the SIM for GSM networks and housed in the phone for CDMA networks.

          Beside security Verizon and Sprint use CDMA due to the fewer dropped calls. These networks connect to 3 towers at 1 time instead of 1 tower at a time. When you lose 1 of the towers your phone automatically picks up another tower so your still connected to 3 and your call. This is part of the reason you have much fewer dropped calls on CDMA Networks versus GSM.

  • Geoff D

    “But right now, there’s no standard for sending voice transmissions over
    LTE, so voice signals instead travel over the 3G network”

    That is absolutely untrue. There has been a decade+ of work done in this area to create a standardized solution called IP MultiMedia Subsystem (IMS). The main standards work is done by the 3GPP group. You can do VoIP voice over LTE on production networks in Europe. I see Verizon hiring IMS engineers in metro-Boston so they must be working on it. The problem here is Verizon Wireless being slow to adopt a new infrastructure rather than the lack of a standard. Since cellular revenue has shifted focus from voice to data, it’s understandable that they would want to keep using their legacy circuit switched mobile switching center technology for as long as they can since they’ll have to run two parallel voice networks until 3G devices vanish from their network.