The next iPhone may be much slower than the Galaxy S8 — here’s why

Key Points
  • The new iPhone may not support Gigabit LTE networks, which the Galaxy S8 does.
  • Qualcomm's modems support Gigabit LTE, but Intel's won't until next year, CNET says.
  • Gigabit LTE is starting its rollout in some cities this year.
Apple CEO Tim Cook
Toru Hanai | Reuters

The next iPhone may not be able to hold a candle to the Galaxy S8 when it comes to how fast you'll be able to download music and movies or surf the web.

CNET published an enlightening report on Tuesday that explains why this might be the case, especially if history repeats itself.

Earlier this month, for example, Qualcomm countersued Apple alleging in part that Apple doesn't use Qualcomm's modems to their full potential. buys modems from both Intel and and needs both to perform similarly for the end user, even if one chip can technically outperform another. That's why the company may hold back some modems from their full potential, at least according to Qualcomm.

Here's why that will matter moving forward.

Qualcomm's latest chip, the Snapdragon 835, features the Snapdragon X16 LTE modem, which is capable of providing Gigabit LTE download and upload speeds. Without getting too technical, Gigabit LTE has the potential to be much, much faster than 4G LTE — the current wireless standard in the U.S. A very fast wireless speed right now would come in around 100Mbps, so we're talking about 10x that.

Apple's iPhone 8 will be delayed, according to a KGI analyst
Apple's iPhone 8 will be delayed, according to a KGI analyst

U.S. carriers will begin rolling out support for Gigabit LTE this year as they move to rolling out 5G networks, and phones like the Galaxy S8 are "future-proof" with support for the new tech. won't offer Gigabit LTE in its chips until next year, CNET said, which is where the problem lies. (Intel declined to comment.)

Apple uses its own processors in the iPhone but will almost certainly purchase modems from both Qualcomm and Intel, as it typically does. If this is the case, Apple may have some modems from Qualcomm that are capable of supporting Gigabit LTE — and others from Intel that are not. Several scenarios could play out if that happens.

Apple could launch a new iPhone with modems from Intel and Qualcomm that don't support Gigabit LTE at all. Or it could launch smartphones with modems from Intel that don't support Gigabit LTE and modems from Qualcomm that do, but sandbag the Qualcomm modems to keep everything even. It might also decide to keep the Qualcomm chips for launch in the U.S., as CNET suggests, and deploy Intel chips in international markets where Gigabit LTE isn't ready to launch yet.

Finally, and here's just a shot-in-the-dark scenario, Apple could reserve the Gigabit LTE modems from Qualcomm for the rumored iPhone 8 and leave 4G LTE modems in the rumored iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus. Customers who want to pay for the added speeds could simply buy the more premium smartphone.

Gigabit LTE is expected to start hitting only some cities this year, so it might not seem necessary for consumers to buy smartphones with Gigabit LTE support just yet. If you're planning to keep it for a few years, however, Gigabit LTE is definitely something you'll want to make sure your new smartphone supports.

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