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iPhone 4 And High Performance Coolness? Here's Hoping!

It was inevitable: you don't sell a bazillion iPods and iPhones and not get a sense of what users want in the next version. Apple certainly delivered, with new video capability, a front camera, video calling, a lower price point, more processing power, multitasking, and so on. This is cool stuff in a platform that already cornered the market for cool.

From a wireless network administrator's perspective, a couple of features have me jazzed. The latest iPhone offering runs on the new iOS 4, and the network adapter is built on the 802.11n standard. Both factors are significant given the past funkiness with various versions of iPhones and Touch devices on the WLAN, particularly on secure networks. Ideally, iOS 4 will provide relief from inconsistent connections and user experiences in non-AirPort wireless environments. Its a given that many iPhone 4s will find their way onto large enterprise-class networks.

If you're not familiar with 802.11n, here's the nickel tour: multiple antennas, wide channels, and all-new "radio chains" work magic to allow for more effective cells and faster data rates. The 11n standard allows for rates to 600 Mbps, but current hardware sets are delivering top rates of 300 Mbps, with actual throughputs generally between 100 and 140 Mbps when all factors are perfect.

So the iPhone 4 will give us wireless throughputs over 100 Mbps, right? Probably not. One look at the impressive stainless steel chassis component that doubles as an antenna array for the new unit's many radio-based capabilities, and it's obvious that there wasn't room to put multiple "full-length" 11n antennas under the hood. Unfortunately, the wide-channel thing is realistically limited to the 5 GHz spectrum that 11n shares with older 11a technology, and the iPhone 4 is a 2.4 Ghz 11n device.

That's a mouthful, but it boils down to this: the iPhone won't be able to take maximum advantage of the promise of 802.11n. At the same time, there should be measurable gains over legacy Apple handhelds. Here's hoping that the Ultimate in Coolness delivers not only an endless stream of impressive apps, but much improved Wi-Fi performance.