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Apple iPhone 7 Caution Was Warranted: GSM-only model has Inferior LTE Performance

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About a month ago, I wrote several pieces on the iPhone 7:

Now it turns out that the Apple sales policy that I had called “anti customer” (Apple refusing to sell an unlocked carrier-free phone for the first 30 days) was indeed a lot more unfriendly than I ever suspected, for a completely different reason: poor LTE performance when signal strength is low.

Since I often am in areas of weak to unusable signal strength, the ability of a phone to function with a poor signal is a major issue for me (I ordered an iPhone 7 S Plus Jet Black, but it’s showing as mid-December delivery). I imagine that I am not alone.

Cellular insights reports that LTE performance with the Apple iPhone 7 GSM-only phone (Intel modem) degrades badly when signal strength is less than optimal. Emphasis added:

Both iPhone 7 Plus variants perform similarly in ideal conditions. At -96dBm the Intel variant needed to have Transport Block Size adjusted as BLER well exceeded the 2% threshold. At -105dBm the gap widened to 20%, and at -108dBm to a whopping 75%.

As a result of such a huge performance delta between the Intel and Qualcomm powered devices, we purchased another A1784 (AT&T) iPhone 7 Plus, in order to eliminate any possibility of a faulty device. The end result was virtually identical. We are hoping that this sudden dip in performance at a specific RSRP value will be further investigated by the engineering and hopefully resolved. At -121dBm, the Intel variant performed more in line with its Qualcomm counterpart. Overall, the average performance delta between the two is in the 30% range in favor of the Qualcomm variant.

In all tests, the iPhone 7 Plus with the Qualcomm modem had a significant performance edge over the iPhone 7 Plus with the Intel modem.

Band 4 is the most commonly deployed LTE spectrum band in North America

 

That’s a black eye for Intel and for Apple. While Apple has hardly Samsung'd people, it sure looks like Apple sold millions of people a bill of goods. There is absolutely no way I would accept this gross performance inferiority—I would demand an exchange. Perhaps a software fix is possible, but Apple foisted this problem on all buyers for the first 30 days by dint of Apple sales policies (no AT&T or T-Mobile customer had a choice in the matter), so holding Apple’s feet to the fire seems appropriate.

Bryan V writes:

I bought an iPhone 7 Plus GSM (T-Mobile) and received it the first week of October. I have experienced signal levels on AT&T that are worse than with an iPhone SE or 6 Plus. This morning I processed the iPhone 7 Plus return and will be picking up a SIM-free iPhone 7 today. I knew there was an issue but it was hard to quantify with anecdotal evidence. I'm glad a report confirms this. I'm also purchasing the Jet Black version based on your comments about better grip. Thank you.

MPG: well, Apple has hardly Samsung'd people but the actual evidence points to a massively inferior modem in the GSM-only phones.

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