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Dropping Qualcomm Modems may be good for iPhone



"We believe that Apple intends to use only the competitor's modems instead of our modems in its next iPhone release."

This is the quote from Qualcomm's CFO George Davis, made during the earnings interview with analysts on June 25, which triggered a small four-star Apple Pundits. When he says "our competitor", he is talking about Intel whose modems are already used in many iPhones. It's no wonder Apple tries to break from using Qualcomm's products, as the two companies are still occupied in an epic series of lawsuit against each other.

The perceptions followed quickly and warned that this year's iPhones would have slower mobile connections than the top-of-the-range Android phones, and that the lack of a Qualcomm modem would put iPhone back.

I do not think it's necessarily the case. Ignore that iPhones already have slower mobile connections than the best Android phones and have for at least a couple of years now, these reviews seem to be based on the assumption that Qualcomm's modem would again have a great advantage over Intel's. I do not think it's necessarily true.

A story about two modems

As I pointed out in a recent analysis of reputable 5G modems, Apple currently produces two variants of each iPhone model: one with an Intel XMM 7480 modem for AT & T, T- Mobile and most global markets, and the other with a Qualcomm X16 modem for Verizon, Sprint, US Cellular, unlocked US phones and Australia, China and India. (Technically, it's a third variant exclusive to Japan that also uses Qualcomm X16 Modem, configured to support Japan's unique LTE band.)

In broad terms, you can think so: Apple uses a Qualcomm X16 modem for carriers and markets where it must have CDMA network support and an Intel XMM 7480 for carriers and markets that are GSM-only (which is most of the world).

These modems, however, vary in more than just CDMA support. Qualcomm X16 is clearly superior. It supports 4×4 MIMO antennas, 4-way carrier aggregation and LAA (Licensed Assisted Access). Add these together and you get theoretical "gigabit" speeds.

However, the Intel modem does not support 4×4 MIMO antennas or LAA, so Apple disables these features in Qualcomm-equipped iPhones. Probably they will not have an identical look iPhone to have remarkably better mobile speeds than their twins.

  pcmag qualcomm intel PCMag.com

PCMag testing shows that even iPhones with a Qualcomm modem are fater than those with Intel.

However, the X16-equipped iPhones are better. Not only do they give you the ability to take the phone to Verizon or Sprint if you want to switch operators, but PCMag testing has confirmed that they perform a little better especially when the mobile signal is weak.

Intel XMM 7560 versus Qualcomm X20

It's tempting to look at today's tomody situation and suppose Apple drops Qualcomm means to get rid of the "good" iPhone and hold the "bad" iPhone. Maybe that's not the case this time.

X16 has a lot of advantages over the XMM 7480: 4×4 MIMO, LAA support, CDMA and several supported LTE tapes, and it is built on a 14nm production process. The Intel 7480 supports fewer bands and modes, and is produced using a much less efficient 28nm process.

For this year's phones, Apple has certainly taken into account the successor to these two modems: Qualcomm X20 and Intel XMM 7560. We do not know how they compare in the real world, but on paper the playground is pretty level.

Intel has finally moved to its 14nm production process with the XMM 7560, and while the X20 is made using a 10nm process, you can not necessarily assess the superior (different manufacturers measure chip process technology with different standards: Intel's 14nm is about equal Samsung 10nm). The jump from 28nm to 14nm should help make Intel's modem far more energy efficient.

Both modes support five-way carrier aggregation, LAA, 4×4 MIMO, and the same major transport modes: LTE-FDD, LTE-TDD, TD-SCDMA, GSM / EDGE, UMTS / WCDMA and CDMA / EVDO. They both require over 1Gbps download speeds and 150Mbps uplink speeds with 256QAM (downlink) and 64QAM (uplink). By running down the specification list for the X20 and XMM 7560, they find that they are much more similar to the Intel and Qualcomm modems in iPhones today.

Of course, implementation details make a big difference, and specifications do not always indicate true-world performance, but on paper you do not lose much with an Intel XMM 7560 instead of a Qualcomm X20.

Finally, one iPhone for the whole world

If the Intel modem Apple is likely to use is as good as the Qualcomm modem they want to use, it really does not matter which of the two ends in this year's iPhones?

And if Apple uses two modems but hamsters, the better it is to equalize performance (as it does today) does not it matter which one they choose?

The real benefit of Apple dumping one of its two modem vendors is the creation of a single worldwide iPhone variant. If the Intel XMM 7560 covers enough carrier modes and LTE tapes to work well in every market, and for all operators that iPhone supports, we can finally have what we've been looking for for years: a single worldwide iPhone.

It's a big win for customers. You no longer need to worry about the iPhone you purchased from your carrier, can not be unlocked and brought to you by a particular other carrier. You do not have to worry about your trip abroad and if your phone will work with the nights there. Most iPhone buyers only think about the iPhone model they buy (for example, iPhone 8 Plus vs. iPhone X) and maybe how much storage they should be, completely unaware that there are different variants with different carrier- compatibility. To comment on this article and other Macworld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.


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