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Tuesday, April 08, 2008, 07:40 pm PT (10:40 pm ET)

Latest iPhone 2.0 beta reveals 3G chipset

Hidden away in the latest test firmware for iPhone developers is the mention of the chipset that will likely power third-generation cellular Internet access in Apple's next generation of the device.

Discovered by the creators of the popular ZiPhone jailbreak and unlocking utility, a small, nondescript entry in the new firmware used to identify the phone's chipset refers to a device known as "SGOLD3."

Sleuthing reveals this to be an Infineon chipset, the SGOLD3H (PDF), which both supplies the baseband for cellular data on GSM phones and serves equally as a general application accelerator and an audiovisual processor.

The iPhone currently uses a predecessor of the chipset, the SGOLD2, to drive its communication link.

However, the new chipset is distinguished from this earlier hardware (also listed in the iPhone firmware) for its 3G cellular data access. Unlike the EDGE-only chipset from the current Apple handset, the new Infineon hardware not only adds 3G over HSDPA but runs up to the international standard's newer 7.2 megabit per second spec — twice the speed of the 3.6-megabit access seen on most HSDPA networks.

It also supports WCDMA, a related 3G technology needed for countries such as Japan and Korea, where the GSM service used by Europe and North America is rare to non-existent. Analysts have already warned that Apple's planned expansion into Asia this year will demand 3G.

However, the chipset doesn't take full advantage of AT&T's planned 3G expansion this year. The exclusive home of the iPhone in the US is currently upgrading to HSUPA, an improvement over HSDPA that dramatically improves upload speeds. The Infineon chipset provides faster downloads than normal HSDPA but doesn't address upstream connections beyond what's already provided in the older 3G standard.

Still, the newly discovered hardware references all but confirm the dependence of a 3G iPhone launch on Apple's firmware overhaul, which is officially scheduled to debut sometime in June. It also corroborates past claims by analysts that predicted an Infineon chip at the heart of an iPhone upgrade due in mid-year.

The introduction of a 3G iPhone is considered essential not just to the delivery of the iPhone to more areas but also to deliver services over cellular networks that typically suffer over slower EDGE connections, such as large downloads from the upcoming App Store.

Infineon's processor also enables new options for video that aren't present in the SGOLD2, such as live recording and two-way video calls, though only unverified rumors have so far suggested that Apple will add a front camera and video chats to the iPhone's feature set.