If You Own an Older Model iPhone, You’re Missing out in This Key Area

iPhone 5s and iPhone SE 4-Inch Credit: WIRED
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If you’re still using an older iPhone, you may have another compelling reason to upgrade. According to a recent report, iPhone cellular data speeds have been seriously improved in the past few years.

OpenSignal recently published the results of a study measuring cellular performance on the most popular iPhone models released since 2013. The findings aren’t mind-blowing by any means, but they help illustrate just how much cellular speeds have improved.

For example, the iPhone XS and the iPhone XS Max are about 26 percent faster than all other Apple handsets released between 2015 and 2017.

When you look at older devices, the difference is even more striking.

  • The iPhone XS Max sports LTE performance that’s a little over twice as fast as the iPhone 5s.
  • The newer device clocked LTE download speeds of around 21.7 Mbps, compared to just 10.2 Mbps on the iPhone 5s.

Diving deeper into the numbers, you can see just how quickly iPhones have improved in cellular performance over the years. Each device is tagged with a category (or “cat”). The higher the category, the better speeds the device can support.

The iPhone 5s, released in 2013, was a Cat3 device. Over the past five years, iPhone performance has bumped up to Cat16 in the iPhone XS and XS Max.

More than that, data performance has also improved significantly over just the past couple of years. From around 2015 to 2017, speeds didn’t see much of a noticeable improvement. But the iPhone X and iPhone XS lineups each logged a significant jump in download speeds.

OpenSignal attributes much of that improvement to newer LTE technologies like 4×4 MIMO. Older smartphones just aren’t capable of supporting newer bandwidth-boosting tech, like carrier aggregation.

The report also notes that newer smartphones, like the Cat16 devices, have modems that are specifically tailored to be efficient — keeping cellular performance speedy but stable.

But it doesn’t just come down to age. Really, it’s the modems and other components that count. Look at the iPhone XR compared to the iPhone XS and XS Max. While released the same year, the OLED handsets support faster speeds thanks to their more powerful modems.

“This highlights how the choice of modem, chipset, and antenna design influence the mobile network experience that consumers receive,” OpenSignal writes.

OpenSignal carried out its study by using data sourced from a variety of iPhones across the U.S. The study looked at devices on multiple carriers between Oct. 26 and Jan. 24.

All in all, the report demonstrates just how much older iPhone owners are missing out when it comes to data speeds.

On the other hand, it’s worth noting that LTE speeds may be peaking, since they aren’t likely to improve that much within the next few generations of iPhones. That may mean that the next big leap in iPhone cellular performance may be in 2020, when Apple adopts 5G.

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