The iPhone 12 Could Be Missing This 5G Feature

iPhone 12 Concept 2020 3 Credit: Hasan Kaymak
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There’s no doubt at all that Apple plans to release its first 5G iPhone later this year, but since cellular technologies can be complicated things, there’s still a lot of buzz in the industry as to exactly what kind of 5G tech Apple plans to put into its iPhones.

We do know that Apple almost certainly plans to use Qualcomm’s fastest and most advanced modem chips, since it doesn’t really have any other choice. Not only does Qualcomm produce the best modem chips right now, but Apple has signed a multi-year deal to get its chips from Qualcomm, at least until it can come up with its own solution.

Since Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X55 is on the leading edge of 5G technology, it stands to reason that this is the one that Apple will use, since older Qualcomm chips have much higher power requirements and require bigger antennas, which would require Apple to make its 2020 iPhones bigger.

Unfortunately, the modem chip isn’t the only piece of the puzzle when it comes to 5G technology; Apple still needs to design the antennas that will transmit and receive 5G signals, and figure out how to fit those antennas into the upcoming iPhone models in order to provide the best 5G service.

In fact, the complexity of antenna designs led at least one analyst to speculate that Apple could delay the faster mmWave 5G iPhone into early 2021, although this was later refuted by a more reliable analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo, who said that the entire 5G lineup would be arriving on schedule, including those models supporting only the sub-6GHz frequencies and the higher-frequency mmWave models in the U.S., Canada, Japan, Korea, and the U.K.

However, now Kuo is back with another report saying that the 5G iPhone 12 may not support 2×2 MIMO uplink speeds, which may lead some to fear that the 5G iPhone could be crippled in some way, but it’s really not as big of a problem as it may sound on the surface.

What This Means

MIMO is an acronym for Multiple Input, Multiple Output, and it’s commonly found in both Wi-Fi and cellular devices. Numbers like “2×2” and “4×4” indicate how many separate transmit and receive streams a device can support.

Back in 2018, the addition of a 4×4 MIMO to the iPhone XS actually allowed it to gain a significant speed boost over the iPhone XR, which featured the same 2×2 MIMO hardware as prior models. This makes sense, since twice as many streams should double the performance as well — assuming that the other elements in the iPhone can handle that kind of throughput.

So the fact that the 5G iPhone 12 won’t even feature 2×2 MIMO could give you pause, but it’s important to remember that we’re talking about 2×2 MIMO at the significantly faster 5G speeds. Further, Kuo’s report appears to be talking only about the uplink channel, suggesting that it could be a 2×1 MISO (Multiple Input, Single Output) device, with two channels downstream and one channel upstream.

The reason for the change, Kuo notes, is that despite his earlier predictions that the iPhone 12 would sport as many as six power amplifiers for 5G networking, he now expects the new iPhone to include only one or two.

Why You Probably Won’t Care

Assuming Kuo is correct, such a change would affect upload speeds, but even the slowest 5G networks are already considerably faster than what users are accustomed to on LTE, so any 5G iPhone has the potential to beat out the fastest LTE one that Apple already makes — subject to a carrier’s ability to deliver those speeds.

In reality, it’s the carriers that are more likely to be the bottleneck right now anyway. 5G networks are still in their early stages, and haven’t been built out to deliver the kind of performance that even a single-channel 5G device is going to be able to take advantage of. Further, most U.S. carriers aren’t promising 5G upload speeds that will be significantly faster than LTE speeds at this point.

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