Is simultaneous voice and data an important feature to you?

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| September 13, 2012

As we transgress into mobile data era, consumers have grown to expect a multitude of things from both their smartphone and their wireless provider. One of the expectations is 4G speeds from their phone – or the respective coverage by the carrier. Another might be affordable data prices and the unneeded use of their smartphone.

No one likes to buy a cell phone that has certain capabilities only to learn the carrier has either blocked those services or installed a premium fee to monetize their own, similar service that should be included with the data package you are forced to pay for in the first place. A perfect example of this is tethering and wireless hotspots.

Most smartphones come with the inbuilt capability of transferring its mobile data connection to another device, either through a hard wire or wireless. This is nothing new. Years ago, people used their old flip phones to hop on the Internet – albeit slowly – from virtually anywhere. More recently, people with smartphones found ways around using the carriers' absurd charges (after all, why should they care how you use the data you pay for?) by rooting or jailbreaking their devices and using alternate, third-party software.

Then things took a turn for the worse. Carriers started doing away with truly unlimited data and began implementing tiered data plans with (hard or soft) caps. But they also started throwing tethering and hotspot capabilities in the mix for no additional charge.

A more recent example stems from a feature added in the latest version of iOS for iPads and iPhones. Apple (finally) added the ability to place FaceTime calls over cellular data. Both Verizon and Sprint confirmed there will be no qualms with FaceTime on their network, all customers will be able to use FaceTime over their cellular data connection regardless of their plan. However, AT&T announced last month that only their Mobile Share plans will allow the use of FaceTime over wireless data.

But it's not always the carrier's fault. Sometimes there are limitations of the technologies hardware manufacturers choose to implement.

Another wave the iPhone 5 is causing waves this evening is an issue with using voice and data together. Unlike the LTE phones before it, the iPhone 5 – at least on Sprint and Verizon – will not support simultaneous voice and data. Using separate CDMA and LTE radios, other existing LTE phones on Sprint and Verizon allow users to place calls without interrupting their data stream – the phones simultaneously use CMDA for handling voice and LTE for data. (Update: It was brought to my attention by a reader that some CDMA devices using Qualcomm chipsets do support simultaneous voice and data on 3G, though, using 1X and 3G at the same time.)

The iPhone 5, on the other hand, has a single radio setup (instead of separate configurations for 3G, HSPA+ and LTE) that utilizes two antennas that switch radio technologies accordingly. The resulting lack of simultaneous voice and data is the combination of the limitations of the radio and antenna setup on the iPhone 5 and CDMA itself. The iPhone 5 on GSM networks can handle the two connections simultaneously by rolling back to HSPA+, 3G or 2G for both voice and data. However, that does mean iPhone 5 users will not be able to utilize LTE speeds while placing a voice call due to the single radio design.

Anand Shimpi of AnandTech tells The New York Times' Brian Chen that Apple likely could have added a third antenna to enable the feature for CDMA models, but it would have complicated the manufacturing process and likely could have caused reception issues (remember the iPhone 4?), only to add a feature that will come in due time. LTE will eventually juggle both voice calls (VoLTE) and data simultaneously on its own.

As a consolation prize, though, CDMA iPhone 5 users will be able to utilize Wi-Fi networks while on call. This is a functionality that was available in previous models (see picture above).

As per usual, this news is causing quite the ruckus. Simultaneous voice and data, or the lack thereof rather, always does. But I have never been able to wrap my head around it or figure out why it's so important to some people. The only thing I have found it useful for is causing my phone to bing and buzz in my ear when I'm on a call – very, very annoying.

I survived with CDMA-only devices for roughly six years without simultaneous voice and data. I owned the first LTE phone, the HTC ThunderBolt, which was the first CDMA phone to support the voice and data at the same time. However, I can count exactly how many times I used the feature with that phone: just once, solely to give it a spin. I placed a call to myself, answered with the other phone and tested it out for a few minutes.

I have also owned countless GSM phones with the ability, yet I have never found it to be a must-have feature or one that I use even periodically. Maybe it's because I don't talk on the phone often and my calls are generally just a couple minutes. Or maybe it's because I like to at least give the person on the other end the courtesy of my undivided attention (most of the time).

Also, I don't fit in the same category as your typical wireless customer. I generally have two or more phones with me at any given time. If I absolutely need to browse the web while on a phone call, I can just pull out another phone. (I don't think I've actually ever done this. Maybe I have and just don't remember. I don't know.) Generally, if I need to look something up or answer a question for someone, it's not that big of an issue to hop off the phone, look something up and text or call the person back with the information they need.

The only reason I can even imagine no simultaneous voice and data could ruin a device for someone is if they tether or use the hotspot feature frequently. It would mean they couldn't place or receive calls while using their phone to power their Internet connection, which could be a problem, particularly if someone needed to get in touch with them about an urgent situation.

Still, this is a very niche issue that will only affect a few potential iPhone 5 buyers. This doesn't affect my decision in the least.

What say you, readers? Is simultaneous voice and data the one thing that has killed the Verizon or Sprint iPhone 5 for you? Do you care about the feature? Or can you live without it (or with simultaneous voice and Wi-Fi instead)? Sound off below!

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