Can S24 on T-Mobile beat iPhone’s 5G speeds after Apple swallowed its modem pride?

The latest Ookla report on the phones with fastest 5G download speeds in the US showed two atypical winners – Apple’s new iPhone 15 Pro Max and iPhone 15 Pro – which clocked a 215 Mbps and 189 Mbps median download speeds, respectively. 

What’s more, there was “no statistical winner in the United States during Q4 2023” between Apple’s iPhones and Samsung’s Galaxies that have been at the top of this ranking for years now.

Well, Samsung’s phones did score a tad higher, 114 Mbps median download speed, but with the advent of the iPhone 15 Pro line Apple apparently managed to finally catch up to Samsung phones like the Galaxy S23 series when it comes to 5G speeds. What happened?

Apple gave up on making its own 5G modem

Apple embraced Qualcomm, that’s what. The world’s most advanced cellular connectivity chip maker is supplying the Snapdragon X70 5G modem inside the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max, and that’s the same one that Samsung uses for the Galaxy S23 series as well. One look at the modems and chipsets that top the US carrier speed rankings and it immediately becomes clear how did Apple manage to finally catch up with Samsung:
  1. Snapdragon X70 (standalone Apple A17 Pro modem) – 205.38 Mbps down /14.10 Mbps up / 53 ms latency
  2. Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 (Galaxy S23) – 173.55 Mbps download / 13.13 Mbps upload / 52 ms latency
  3. Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 (Galaxy Z Fold 4) – 169.27 Mbps download / 11.95 Mbps upload / 53 ms latency
Apparently, gone are the days when Apple used Intel modems for its first 5G-enabled iPhones out of spite and the fiasco that ensued when their download speeds were compared to Samsung phones, or even to next-gen iPhones with a Qualcomm modem.
In fact, despite all of its experience making top-shelf A-series chipsets for iPhones, iPads, and even Macs, Apple couldn’t resolve all of the complexities of a power-sipping 5G modem with all of the frequency support and interference filters that have to be in there and certified by carriers around the globe.

The chip Apple actually made after a couple of years of engineering efforts was so big that it could occupy half of the internal space in an iPhone, so it had to resort to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X-series modems yet again. Apple poached a number of Intel and Qualcomm employees for its modem project codenamed Sinope, but it immediately faced insurmountable challenges. When the first prototype was tested, for instance, Apple saw that it is very slow and gets hot fast. The biggest change of heart, however, occurred because of the size of Apple’s initial effort, with the resulting modem circuit board as large as half an iPhone.

In short, Apple tried and failed to create a 5G modem of its own, and decided to simply pay to resolve all legal disputes with Qualcomm and sign up for a long-term partnership over cellular connectivity. It is now rumored to have frozen its 5G modem “Sinope” project indefinitely, too. An apparently good move, considering that the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max are now the fastest phones when it comes to download speeds in the US, after years of languishing in Samsung’s shadows.

T-Mobile could throw a monkey wrench in the iPhone’s download joy

T-Mobile already announced that there are unique 5G network upload speed optimizations that only the Galaxy S24, S24+, and S24 Ultra will be able to take advantage of, so we can’t wait for the clash of the Apple vs Samsung titans on its network:
Thus, with the imminent arrival of the Galaxy S24 series, the iPhone 15 Pro‘s 5G superiority may turn out to be short-lived. After all, the S24 series is powered by a Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset that integrates a Snapdragon X75 5G modem that will again be a generation ahead of what the iPhone 15 Pro is now offering, and Apple will only catch up to it with the iPhone 16 series.

The X75 5G modem is still rated for 10 Mbps download speed maximums, though, so on other carriers it may not offer the same carrier speed advantages as it will on T-Mobile’s 5G network, save for the uplink.

Still, even if Apple gets beat by Samsung again and the iPhone 15 Pro loses out to the Galaxy S24 series on AT&T and Verizon, too, its Qualcomm modem change of heart would still be the right move given the iPhone’s newfangled stellar performance when it comes to carrier network download speeds.


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