Got a need for speed? New report claims iPhone 12's 5G performance lags behind that of rival Android models

Baked-in mmWave support may improve figures with more deployments

5G performance on the iPhone 12 range trails that of competing Android devices, according to a report from OpenSignal.

The study, which contrasted 5G performance between Apple handsets and phones from the likes of Samsung, OnePlus, and Google, showed the iPhone 12 series with the lowest average 5G download speed of 44.5Mbps. Samsung occupied the top spot with average speeds of 54Mbps.

Apple also performed poorly in head-to-head 4G tests, with the lowest average score of 18.9Mbps. This time around, Google's Pixel devices had the fastest download speeds of 38.9Mbps (within striking distance of Apple's 5G performance), with OnePlus and Samsung following behind with LTE download speeds of 38.4Mbps and 34Mbps respectively.

Because Apple did poorly in 4G speed tests, the paper's authors noted that of all the brands, Cupertino's users experienced the biggest jump in average download speeds when they reached an area where 5G was available. On 5G, iPhone users had overall download speeds 2.3 times faster than their 4G download speeds.

A smartphone reference design running a Snapdragon 690 SoC

Qualcomm looks to hook the masses to 5G... if it arrives: Snapdragon 690, X51 modem to power mid-range gear


In total, devices from Samsung represented 60 per cent of the fastest 25 smartphones. Moreover, Sammy's mobile devices stole eight slots in the list of the top 10 fastest 5G phones, with TCL's REVVL 5G and the OnePlus 8T+ occupying second and third place respectively.

So what accounts for the difference in performance? A major factor is the modem. Samsung's latest devices use an integrated Qualcomm Snapdragon X60 5G modem*, while Apple uses the older Qualcomm X55 5G chip, which isn't integrated into the SoC, but rather sits as a separate component on the phone's logic board.

The report also observed that foldable and dual-screen devices – such as the Samsung Z Flip 5G and Motorola Razr 5G – didn't quite match the speeds of more conventional phones, with only three models entering the top 25 list despite a comparatively higher price. OpenSignal attributed this to difficulties in placing a cellular antenna within the context of a foldable device.

As the world learned with the catastrophic iPhone 4 saga, where you place a cellular antenna is hugely important. Getting that right, and also allowing for moving parts and shifting form factors, is a complicated task.

Though this report isn't exactly good news for Apple's marketing efforts (you can bet your bottom dollar that Samsung's ad team will spring on this), don't count Cupertino out just yet.

The US version of the iPhone 12 has mmWave support baked in, which will likely push its numbers northwards as deployments gather pace. Separately, work continues on Apple's own homegrown cellular modems, bolstered by the 2019 buy of Intel's modem division, as well as an upcoming €1bn wireless tech R&D facility. ®

*Other Galaxy S21 series phones sold beyond China, South Korea, and North America are equipped with Samsung's Exynos 2100 chipset instead, which uses the integrated Exynos 5123 modem.

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