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How next year’s iPhones will finally catch up to Samsung where it matters

For years, Samsung (and the rest of the Android flagship stable) have consistently trashed the iPhone when it comes to wireless speeds. Despite the rest of Apple’s advancements, advanced LTE technologies have been notably absent from the iPhone range.

According to a pair of recent reports, that’s all set to change in 2018. Apple is working with modem suppliers and redesigning the antennas to make sure that this aberration never happens again.

There are two significant bottlenecks to achieving faster LTE speeds in the iPhone: The baseband chip, which is supplied by either Intel or Qualcomm, depending on the iPhone model; and the antenna itself, which is heavily influenced by the physical design of the phone.

Respected industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities, renowned for his sources in the iPhone supply chain, claims that Apple is going to fix both of those problems next year. KGI says that the “2018 iPhones will include significantly faster baseband chips from Intel and Qualcomm.” Right now, it’s the Intel chips that are rumored to be the problem. Qualcomm’s modems, widely used in Android flagship phones, are already capable of gigabit LTE speeds.

But in the iPhone X and iPhone 8 this year, some devices have Intel chips and some have Qualcomm chips — due to supply constraints and strategic needs, Apple uses a mix of both suppliers. In order for the iPhone X on Verizon and iPhone X on T-Mobile to get the same LTE speeds, Apple deliberately disables some features on the Qualcomm modems to match the performance of the Intel modems.

But next year, Apple is rumored to be using mostly Intel modems, with the percentage set to be as high as 70-80% of all chips supplied by Intel. That makes sense, since Apple is currently locked in a bitter legal dispute with Qualcomm, but it also means that Intel must be close to shipping a baseband modem that can handle advanced LTE technologies.

Just in time to support the shift to faster modems, Apple is also said to be planning liquid crystal polymer (LCP) antennas for the 2018 iPhone lineup. Again, the news comes from KGI and Ming-Chi Kuo:

Antenna design upgrade a key factor in anticipated boost to LTE transmission speed in new 2H18F iPhone models. As a LTE antenna FPCB material, LCP is superior to PI in properties related to high-frequency, thermal performance and moisture resistance. We predict 2H18 new iPhones will be equipped with two LCP LTE antenna modules same as iPhone X or more, but with higher specs to support 4×4 MIMO standards.

Achieving faster speeds over LTE is really a matter of supporting a number of new technologies, like carrier aggregation, 4×4 MIMO, and 256QAM. Those technologies can vastly improve speed and capacity on a network, and are increasingly being deployed by the wireless networks in the US. The real-world result is faster and more consistent speeds — at least, if you have an Android flagship.