iPhone 7 cellular performance test: Qualcomm's modem is better than Intel's

Apple made some iPhone 7 models with Qualcomm modems and some with Intel modems

apple iphone 7
Credit: Adam Patrick Murray

With the iPhone 7, Apple diversified its modem supply for the first time. The company chose Intel and Qualcomm to provide baseband chipsets for two variations on the iPhone.

The Intel version supports the GSM, WCDMA, and LTE networks, and Qualcomm's supports GSM, CDMA, WCDMA, TD-SCDMA, and LTE networks. Qualcomm's modem powers the Verizon, Sprint, and SIM-unlocked iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

If you have one of those versions, congrats! Your iPhone is capable of much better cellular reception than the Intel model, according to extensive testing from Cellular Insights.

But the differences between the two chips goes beyond the networks they support. The Intel variant of the iPhone 7 Plus consistently underperforms the Qualcomm version in LTE throughput.

Also, Intel's chip doesn't support Enhanced Voice Services or Ultra HD Voice, while Qualcomm's does. However, those omissions don't matter much today because Apple has turned off this feature in the iPhone (despite its ability to significantly improve audio quality).

T-Mobile's network does support the advanced LTE Ultra HD Voice feature, but T-Mobile's iPhone 7 models all have Intel modems.

Apple hasn't yet responded to the report, which pushes the limits of modem performance in controlled tests but doesn't replicate real-world usage. Apple may have determined that both modems perform well in the scenarios its customers use them for. But Cellular Insights does raise an interesting point: Most smartphone reviews ignore LTE performance, possibly to the detriment of buyers.

"Most of the time mobile operators get blamed for dropped calls or session timeouts, but it's often forgotten that the phone makers implementation of baseband, RF Front-End (RFFE), and the antenna design could play its role," the report notes.

You can check out the full test results, methodology, hardware details, and analysis here, and it's definitely worth a read for the more technically minded.

This story, "iPhone 7 cellular performance test: Qualcomm's modem is better than Intel's" was originally published by Macworld.

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