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The iPhone’s last major weakness might finally be fixed next year

Published Nov 17th, 2017 3:41PM EST
iPhone X vs Galaxy Note 8 qualcomm intel
Image: Chris Mills/BGR

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This year’s iPhone X is ahead of the competition in virtually every respect. But when it comes to the wireless chip inside the newest iPhones, Apple has been found sorely wanting. Neither the iPhone X nor iPhone 8 support LTE-Advanced technologies, which means that in real-world testing, the iPhone X is slower than virtually any Android flagship launched this year.

The baseband modem chip inside the phone is to blame. Apple uses a mix of suppliers — Intel and Qualcomm — to handle supply, and so that it’s not solely reliant on one supplier. Qualcomm is the industry leader in baseband chips, and the Qualcomm-powered phones should on paper be able to keep up with the Android competition. But Intel’s modem lacks the LTE-Advanced features, an in an effort to keep parity between, say, the Verizon and AT&T-model iPhones, Apple disables LTE-Advanced on the Qualcomm-powered devices, so that all iPhone models perform the same.

But according to a new report, the software sandbagging will end by next year. Respected analysis firm KGI has issued a report, seen by 9to5Mac, claiming that the “2018 iPhones will include significantly faster baseband chips from Intel and Qualcomm.” Hopefully, that will mean greater parity between Qualcomm and Intel’s modems, which in turn will mean no software limitations, and iPhones that are genuinely fast.

Significantly, the KGI report says that 70-80% of modems will be supplied by Intel. Apple is currently locked in a bitter legal argument with Qualcomm over the price it charges for the use of its patents in the iPhone, so it’s no surprise that Apple is trying to shift supply away from Qualcomm as quickly as possible.

A separate report today claimed that Apple and Intel are working together to design new 5G modem chips for a future iPhone. Apple has moved more and more of its chip design in-house in recent years. Not only does it handle design for the CPU in iPhones and iPads, but it also designs custom wireless chips, image processors, and wireless charging technologies for its products.

With any luck, greater competition between Intel and Qualcomm will push both companies to keep working on their modem chips, and the end result will be faster connections for end users. Right now, the difference between Android flagships and the new iPhone X is stark: In a head-to-head test, the Galaxy Note 8 showed download speeds twice as fast as the iPhone X, whether that was 100Mbps to 50Mbps, or 350Mbps to 150Mbps.

Chris Mills
Chris Mills News Editor

Chris Mills has been a news editor and writer for over 15 years, starting at Future Publishing, Gawker Media, and then BGR. He studied at McGill University in Quebec, Canada.