Apple presents the iPhone X as the “smartphone of the future.”
But at least in one key area, its new phones fall short of Android phones that have already been out for months.
The iPhone 8, and lack the ability to tap into a superfast wireless network technology called Gigabit LTE, confirming a CNET report from earlier this year. Meanwhile, there are 10 Android phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8, LG V30 and HTC U11, that boast the ability to reach a theoretical peak speed of 1 gigabit per second. That’s the highest speed offered by internet service providers, fast enough for you to download a two-hour movie in 15 seconds.
Apple confirmed that the new iPhones will be able to tap into LTE Advanced networks, which have a theoretical peak speed of 500 megabits per second. That’s fast, but not nearly as fast as what their Android competitors can hit.
The lack ofon the new iPhones is noteworthy because the carriers are starting to trumpet the technology as a big advance that offers more speed and capacity — even if it’s not yet broadly available. When more of these advanced networks go online throughout the next year, you’ll start to see Android phones blow past iPhones when it comes to their cellular connections.
But Apple has never been at the cutting edge of networking tech, and these latest iPhones highlight the fact that the company prefers to wait for things to fully bake before embracing them.
“Apple’s not at the forefront of adopting network technology,” said Ben Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies. “They’re rarely the first ones to do it.”
Few members of the wireless industry that CNET spoke to were surprised by the move, given Apple’s track record. The company, after all, was late to the game with both 3G and LTE network technologies.
The latest iPhones do pack 27 LTE bands into a single model, making them usable virtually everywhere that LTE is available. It’s the need to reach so many people that likely has the company staying conservative.
“Apple needs to play a global game,” Bajarin said.
Apple declined to comment for this story.
Not just a turbo boost
Even if you don’t actually hit 1 gigabit per second, a Gigabit LTE network is a heck of a lot faster than anything you’re getting now. A test by Australian carrier Telstra saw real-world speeds of 100 megabits to 300 megabits per second, or about 30 times what your standard LTE signal looks like.
But there are myriad other benefits. Beyond the higher speeds, the carriers will be able handle more people on their networks — an increasing number of whom are on unlimited data plans gorging on streaming movies and video games.
Gigabit LTE is still in the early stages of getting rolled out even in the US, let alone the rest of the world. T-Mobile is the furthest ahead and boasts 300 cities with some level of Gigabit LTE.
AT&T calls its form of Gigabit LTE “5G evolution,” which is available in a rudimentary form in Austin and Indianapolis. But the company said a new iPhone and a Galaxy S8 would likely perform at the same speeds in those cities until further upgrades happen. The company plans to light up “5G evolution” upgrades in 20 more cities over the next few months.
Verizon and Sprint have held trials for Gigabit LTE.
The limited deployment of the technology means people aren’t going to care about it when purchasing their new iPhones.
But they may in a year or two.
Better over time
Here’s the beauty of Gigabit LTE: As more networks get upgraded, your phone gets faster over time. So a Galaxy S8 or LG V30 may get decent speeds now, high speeds in a few months and crazy-fast speeds in a year or two, depending on where you live and how aggressive your carriers are with new network equipment.
That’s a particular issue for the iPhone X, which Apple pitches as the model with loads of future tech, according to Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights. Given the dramatic price increase, he expects people to hang onto their phones longer, which means they’ll miss out on these speed boosts for a while.
“It’s a big miss,” he said.
Moorhead said he sees the carriers and phone makers getting more vocal about Gigabit LTE by the end of this year, with broader deployments next year.
Still, network technology is the stuff of geeks and tech enthusiasts, so some people may not care about how much faster the network gets as long as their episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale” stream just fine.
“It’s a nice to have,” Bajarin said. “But it won’t move the needle.”
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