Substandard modems in some of the new iPhone 7 models have created headaches for consumers.
In the case of mobile devices, connectivity is king. As the quality of iPhones improve, and the variety of media becomes more diverse, consumers expect hardware to deliver adequate performance.
So, when Apple equipped the iPhone 7 models with modems from two different manufacturers, Qualcomm and Intel, they came away with two very different products in the same iPhones. In theory, a diverse supply chain is a good thing. However, the reality is that some users are experiencing poor performance in marginal or faint reception areas.
Newly released results of independent testing by consumer-based tech site Cellular Insights shows that there is a significant gap in connectivity performance between the Intel modem and the superior Qualcomm modem. (See chart.)
The difference in ideal performance conditions is negligible. However, in varied signal-strength scenarios, the Intel modem operates at slower speeds--30% to 75% where the signal is weakest. In English, this means Qualcomm outperforms Intel in weak-signal situations.
For the consumer, this issue can have a lasting impact,which makes it important to know which of these products are problematic. Fortunately, it’s easy to discern which units have the better hardware. There are three ways to know which modem you’re getting:
1. Check the model number on the back of the phone.
2. Go to Settings>General>Regulatory
3. Place of purchase: specific models have been assigned to different carrier/distributors--The Qualcomm-modem models are sold by Verizon and Sprint. The Intel-modem iPhone models are sold by TMobile and AT&T
Here are the model numbers and their respective modems:
MODEL A1660 Qualcomm
MODEL A1661 Qualcomm
MODEL A1778 Intel
MODEL A1784 Intel
So, what do you do if you have a contract with TMobile or AT&T (the carriers selling Intel-modem iPhones) but you don’t want to get stuck with the poor quality Intel modem?
The answer is to buy an unlocked iPhone with a Qualcomm modem. The Qualcomm modem will support any of the big carrier networks in the US. (GSM/CDMA/WCDMA/TD-SCDMA/LTE). The Intel modem will only work with a few (GSM/WCDMA/LTE)
But, the problems don’t just end there. The Qualcomm modem also supports Ultra HD Voice, or Enhanced Voice Services (EVS). EVS improves the voice call quality and a broader audio frequency range. Apple has chosen to disable this feature. (Some believe this is an attempt by Apple to level the playing field between Qualcomm and Intel.) Currently, the only network that has been deployed EVS is T-Mobile--yes, the same network selling the Intel-modem iPhone 7 which can't support EVS! Since their hardware doesn’t currently support EVS, T-Mobile users will have to wait until a future new iPhone release to be able to utilize this feature.
Meanwhile, consumers, especially those who travel extensively or those who live or work in an area with less-than-ideal reception, need to be aware of this quality discrepancy before deciding on which iPhone 7 model to buy. When a person spends a substantial sum of money on a product, it seems reasonable for them to want the best performance possible.