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Monday, December 17, 2007, 08:05 am PT (11:05 am ET)

Report downplays concerns over lack of 3G iPhone

The absence of a 3G iPhone from Apple's product portfolio has been a hot topic amongst investors, but any concerns in that department are currently a bit overblown, says a new report from one Wall Street analyst.

In a brief research note to client investors on Monday, American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu said he's frequently asked about the lack of a 3G iPhone and what it means for Apple. He explained, however, that he sees these ongoing concerns as "overdone and misplaced" at present, and outlined four key data points in defense of his beliefs.

First and foremost, Wu said, 3G (WCDMA/UMTS/HSPA) is still a relatively niche technology and not widely deployed in the US despite all the publicity and hype. "Even in Europe and Japan, where the technology is more available, network coverage is somewhat spotty," he wrote. "While there are a decent number of 3G phones (~10-15 percent) being shipped, the untold reality is they utilize much more prevalent 2/2.5G wireless infrastructure most of the time.

In addition, 3G is not as field tested as 2/2.5G, the analyst said, also pointing out that RIMM — the leading smart phone vendor — has experienced a lot of success with 2/2.5G Blackberries.

Costs of 3G iPhone parts would also be somewhat steep at present, Wu added. "We estimate that 3G components including the baseband, RF transceiver, and power amplifier add about $15 in incremental cost versus the 2.5G EDGE chip set iPhone uses today," he told clients. "We believe these price points need to come down a bit before 3G can be widely deployed."

Another reason Apple has been slow to adopt 3G has a lot to do with the technology's reputation for being a bit of a battery hog. "Our sources indicate that 3G requires about 35-40 percent more power to run [than 2/2.5G components]," the analyst wrote in his report. "This is a key issue as Apple seeks to deliver as much battery life as possible on its highly functional iPhone."

From his supply chain checks, Wu believes a 3G iPhone will most likely ship sometime near or after the middle of 2008. "

We believe by then, the network coverage, price points, and battery life issues will be better addressed," he wrote. "Should Apple decide to ship earlier, it will likely be positioned as a high-end smart phone and allow Apple to re-position the current 2.5G iPhone as a more mainstream product."

While Wu and his team remain concerned with potential softness in US consumer spending, he said it appears that Apple "is once again positioned to buck the trend." He recommends that clients be buyers of the company's shares on pull-backs and said he see upside to his $210 price target in 6-12 months.