Expert: iPad Wi-Fi issues may be linked to power management

Unlikely that faulty hardware causing poor wireless connections

The Wi-Fi reliability problems reported by iPad owners can probably be solved with a software update, a hardware expert said Friday.

"It's unlikely that hardware is the primary cause of the [problem]," said Aaron Vronko, CEO of Michigan-based Rapid Repair, a repair shop and do-it-yourself parts supplier for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. "This is probably a software problem, or a hardware quirk that software must negotiate."

Vronko said iPad owners hinted as much. "If this was hardware related, it would almost certainly have to be an error in assembly or failure in the chip itself," Vronko said in an email reply to questions. "However, chip-related failure would likely be more absolute in its effects."

Users have not said that their iPads are never able to connect to a Wi-Fi network; instead they have said the signal is weak -- and download speeds are extremely slow -- or they're unable to maintain a connection.

Complaints about the iPad's wireless reliability surfaced within hours of the iPad's March 16 sales debut.

Vronko also relied on advice given by Apple to back up his speculation. Last week, an Apple support representative told Computerworld that resetting the iPad's network settings to their factory defaults might solve the Wi-Fi problem.

"The fact that a network settings reset can sometimes resolve the issue points strongly to a power-saving feature run amok," said Vronko.

According to Vronko and several tear-down experts, the new iPad features the Broadcom BCM4330 chip, which handles Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. That chip, new to the iPad, also is inside the iPhone 4S, which launched last October.

"[The Broadcom BCM4330 chip] boasts a new design including several new power-saving features," said Vronko. "Wi-Fi can be a hungry customer in mobile devices and Apple knew that the new LCD and its requisite monster truck GPU would be guzzling battery juice. They had to go aggressive on performance per milliwatt on every other component."

For that reason, Vronko wasn't surprised to hear users gripe. "Tune a few million test subjects tightly against the performance limit and you're bound to have some problems in the field," he said.

The solution could turn on adjusting the iPad's power management software to make more battery power available to the Broadcom chip.

Apple has not publicly acknowledged a Wi-Fi issue in the new iPad, or hinted whether a fix is in the works, and if so, when it would be released.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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