In this latest iPhone generation, Apple has brought to market two iPhone 7 variants: the GSM/WCDMA/LTE with Intel modem version, and the GSM/CDMA/WCDMA/TD-SCDMA/LTE version with Qualcomm hardware. A new report is highlighting the first performance differences between the iPhone 7 featuring Intel’s modem hardware compared to the iPhone 7 featuring Qualcomm modem hardware.
The report from Cellular Insights finds that iPhone 7’s equipped with Qualcomm’s MDM9645M modem, which powers the (A1660, A1661) Verizon, Sprint, and SIM-free models, features better cellular performance than the (A1778, A1784) Intel version. Not only that, but the Qualcomm version’s ability to take advantage of Ultra HD Voice has been disabled as well according to the report.
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Ultra HD Voice
The first interesting point gleaned from Cellular Insights’ report is that Qualcomm’s MDM9645M modem is capable of Ultra HD Voice, which is the marketing name for the Enhanced Voice Services codec, or EVS. EVS can result in significantly improved audio quality over cellular connections, but according to this report, Apple decided to disable this feature. It’s a decision that Cellular Insights claims may be an attempt to level the playing field with the Intel-powered version of the iPhone 7.
As of now, only T-Mobile has deployed EVS on its network, so coverage is limited in the US. T-Mobile says that EVS brings several notable benefits to its customers, including the following:
- EVS improves voice call reliability in areas of weaker signal, which means the rare dropped call on LTE will happen even less frequently.
- EVS provides even higher-fidelity calls than the HD Voice. EVS does this with a broader audio frequency range, which translates to richer, more realistic-sounding voice audio.
It’s ironic, because T-Mobile customers are being supplied with the iPhone 7 (Intel version), which isn’t capable of supporting this feature from a hardware perspective. It should be noted that at least two other T-Mobile-compatible phones, the LG G5 and the Samsung Galaxy S7, support EVS.
If you’re not on T-Mobile, then this isn’t a big deal, as no other carriers appear to support Ultra HD Voice at the moment. That could change in the future, however, and since the AT&T and T-Mobile versions aren’t capable of supporting the feature from a hardware perspective, we probably won’t see support for EVS until future iPhone models are released.
But the EVS/Ultra HD Voice details aren’t the only interesting data points to trickle in from this report. The information contains RF tests that pit the Qualcomm version of the iPhone 7 Plus vs the Intel version. Cellular Insights says that it procured the iPhone 7 Plus units and all test hardware from Rohde & Schwarz using its own funding for independent analysis.
The report begins by measuring the LTE throughput for both devices in order to compare data between the Intel-powered and Qualcomm-powered iPhone 7 Plus models.
The findings are quite interesting. Both versions of the iPhone 7 Plus were able to achieved maximum sustained data throughput while at cell center, but when reducing power levels to simulate edge of cell scenarios, each phone responded differently.
For example, in the graph above, you can see how Band 12 (10MHz) performance differs between the two basebands during a controlled environment test. Notice how the throughput drops drastically on the XMM7360 (Intel) version as power levels are reduced.
Band 12, which is a low frequency band, can propagate further, and penetrate walls better than high frequency bands. In other words, it’s a band that is frequently needed when using LTE inside of buildings. Note the significant difference in throughput around -108 dBm.
Cellular Insights tested two additional LTE bands as well: Band 4 (20MHz), and Band 7 (20MHz) in 4×2 MIMO.
The results, as you can see, follow the same trend. Be sure to check out Cellular Insight’s test page for the full explainer. There you’ll find details on testing methods used, hardware used, etc. You can also find its results and corresponding graph when testing Band 7, and see how the iPhone 7’s modem performance stacks up to other devices, like the Galaxy S7 and the LG G5. It’s an enlightening read on a technical level that’s well worth the time.
After testing, the conclusion is that the iPhone 7 hardware with the Qualcomm-powered modem has a significant cellular modem performance edge over the Intel variant.
As to why Apple has sourced two baseband suppliers after years of using Qualcomm hardware exclusively, it likely has much to do with broadening its supply chain. In this case, however, it looks like supply chain diversification has resulted in a measurable performance difference between the two models in a lab-controlled environment.
Of course, controlled tests differ from real world usage and scenarios, but these findings are nonetheless interesting. I tend not to read too much into this data, because Apple has no-doubt tested both models, and found that each performed satisfactorily in real world usage.
Also worth noting is that the iPhone 7 with the Qualcomm modem is only being sold in China, Japan and in the United States, which means that Apple deemed the Intel version to be good enough for every other territory.
That said, if you’re buying an iPhone 7 for full price in one of the aforementioned territories, then I highly recommend going with the Verizon/Sprint/SIM-free version. Not only does this version seem to perform better from a cellular modem perspective, but it’s also capable of working with most cellular carriers in the US and abroad.