Faster Throughput on WCDMA

Fixing unintended attenuation is only one part of what’s new however, the other part of the story is faster cellular connectivity for users on WCDMA/UMTS carriers. Users who are using the 4S on CDMA (like Sprint or Verizon) won’t see a performance difference since this is still the same EVDO Rev.A.

The iPhone 4 used an Intel/Infineon X-Gold 618 which supported HSDPA 7.2 and HSUPA 5.76. The MDM6610 inside the 4S supports HSDPA 14.4 and HSUPA 5.76, alongside a number of 3GPP Rel.7 features which are colloquially known as HSPA+. I talked about this extensively in another piece when there was some confusion about whether or not the 4S is HSPA+ - which it is.

iPhone Cellular Speeds
Property iPhone 3G/3GS iPhone 4 (GSM/UMTS) iPhone 4 (CDMA) iPhone 4S
Baseband Infineon X-Gold 608 Infineon X-Gold 618 Qualcomm MDM6600 Qualcomm MDM6610
HSDPA Cat.8 - 7.2 Mbps Cat.8 - 7.2 Mbps N/A Cat.10 - 14.4 Mbps
HSUPA None - 384 Kbps WCDMA only Cat.6 - 5.76 Mbps N/A Cat.6 - 5.76 Mbps
EVDO N/A N/A 1x/EVDO Rev.A 1x/EVDO Rev.A

The previous X-Gold 618 baseband was a nice improvement over the iPhone 3G/3GS’ X-Gold 608, which lacked HSUPA, but in a world where most WCDMA carriers are at least running HSDPA 14.4, it’s nice to finally have an iPhone with something faster than HSDPA 7.2. I’ve done lots of testing inside my Tucson, AZ market (which is “4G” HSPA+ on AT&T’s coverage viewer) with both the 4 and the 4S, and have built a very good feel for the 4’s performance. As a reminder, if you’re in the USA, those dark blue areas represent HSPA+ coverage areas with AT&T’s upgraded backhaul. In practice these are at least HSDPA 14.4.

 
Left: iPhone 4 Limited to ~6.1 Mbps down, Right: iPhone 4S (same location) hitting ~9 Mbps

With line of sight to an AT&T NodeB inside my HSPA+ market I’m used to seeing a maximum downstream throughput on the iPhone 4 of almost exactly ~6.1 Mbps, which is about right for the 4’s HSDPA 7.2 maximum when you include overhead. The nice straight line in that result should clue you in that downstream throughput on the 4 was being gated by the baseband. On the 4S, in this same location, I’ve been able to get 9.9 Mbps when the cell isn’t loaded at night (I didn't grab a screenshot of that one, for some reason). It’s nice to finally not be gated by the baseband anymore on an iDevice. Having a faster baseband is part of the reason the 4S’s cellular performance is much better, the other half is receive diversity which helps the 4S push these high throughput rates, and also dramatically improve performance at cell edge.

I did some drive testing with the 4 and 4S side by side and targeted areas that I know have pretty poor signal strength. The 4S is shown in yellow, the 4 in blue.

You can see how downstream throughput gets a nice shift up, and the average changes as well, from 2.28 Mbps on the 4 to 2.72 Mbps on the 4S. The maximum in this sample increases from 6.25 to 7.62 Mbps as well. It isn’t a huge shift, but subjectively I’ve noticed the 4S going a lot faster in areas that previously were difficult for the 4.

We’ve also run the usual set of standalone tests on the 4S on AT&T in my market of Tucson, AZ, in Anand’s market of Raleigh, NC, and on Verizon in Raleigh, NC. Though we don’t have a Sprint 4S yet, we hope to do a more serious 4S carrier comparison here in the US when we get one. First up is AT&T which is of course HSPA+ in both of our testing markets.

AT&T HSPA+

Verizon EVDO

iPhone 4S Speedtest Comparison
Carrier AT&T Verizon
  Avg Max Min Avg Max Min
Downstream (Mbps) 3.53 9.94 0.24 0.82 2.05 0.07
Upstream (Mbps) 1.17 1.86 0.009 0.38 0.96 0.003
Latency (ms) 137 784 95 177 1383 104
Total Tests 457 150
Air Interface HSPA+
(HSDPA 14.4/HSUPA 5.76)
EVDO Rev.A

For the CDMA carriers, the 4S shouldn’t (and doesn’t) bring any huge improvement to data throughput because the CDMA 4 had both receive diversity and MDM66x0. For users on GSM/UMTS, however, the 4S does make a difference again thanks to the inclusion of those two new features.

One of the things I noticed was absent on the CDMA iPhone 4 was the 3G toggle. It does indeed make some sense to not include this in a CDMA 1x/EVDO scenario since power draw is about the same between the two air interfaces, however, the absence of this toggle has carried over to the 4S regardless of whether the phone is activated on a CDMA2000 or UMTS/GSM network. That’s right, you can go under Settings -> General -> Network, and there’s no longer any 3G Data toggle which you can disable and fall onto EDGE (2G) with now.

 
Left: iPhone 4S (no 3G toggle), Right: iPhone 4 (3G toggle)

It’s likely that this is absent to accommodate the multi-mode nature of the 4S (and thus the lowest common denominator CDMA mode), however the absence of this toggle makes getting connected in congested areas more difficult. In some markets, (I’m looking at you, AT&T in Las Vegas), EDGE is often the only way to get any connectivity, even without a major convention going on. Not having that 3G toggle makes manually selecting that less-used but more reliable connection impossible now, to say nothing of the potential battery savings that this would afford (and that we sadly can’t test now).

There’s one last tangential question about HSPA+ on the 4S, specifically on AT&T. I’ve left this to the end since it doesn’t impact non-US 4S users, but the last question is whether the 4S is actually on HSPA+. For a while, I was concerned that AT&T would continue using the wap.cingular APN on the 4S which seems shaped to around 7.2 Mbps HSDPA. I’m glad to report that AT&T hasn’t continued using wap.cingular on its 4S data plans, instead using “phone” which is a newer APN that allows for HSPA+ (above 7.2 Mbps) rates. You can check this yourself under PDP Context Info on the 4S in field test.

Improved Baseband - No Deathgrip The A5 Architecture & CPU Performance
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  • Formul - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    There is about a dozen fairly similar android phones every month. As iPhone gets refreshed just once every year (this time year and a half) and has bigger market than any single android phone out there it makes sense to make the review thorough. I guess Nexus Prime and even Razer will get similar lengthy reviewsa ... as did many other android phones before that (galaxy s2 for example had about the same as this one).

    You are the one biased here. Counting the number of android articles on any gadget blog will seriously outpace the iPhone by far. You should shut up and read what you want, no one is forcing you to read this blog or any particular article on it. I dont read android articles, i dont care about android all that much. Why do you have to troll here if it does not interest you after all?
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    I believe we did just that for the Galaxy S 2 review:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4686/samsung-galaxy-...

    We don't have the RAZR, Galaxy Nexus or S2 Skyrocket, but we typically do a deep dive whenever there's a new platform transition or something truly unique to look at.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • LordSojar - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    Hmm, touche Anand, I had forgotten about how detailed the S2 review was.

    The RAZR doesn't warrant a particularly detailed review I suppose, but I think the S2 Skyrocket might warrant a detailed antenna review etc considering the transition to LTE along with, what should be a major change to the antenna and should (I think) have QC's MDM9615 or MDM8215 chips in it... which is a big deal considering those could yield not only significant speed gains along with an antenna update, but some major throughput.

    Cheers
    Reply
  • doobydoo - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    'Samsung releases a new phone that has overall better features, faster CPU, faster NAND, a different and arguably better (or at least equal) screen'

    I hope you are comparing to the OLD Samsung, in this sentence, rather than comparing to the iPhone 4S.

    The CPU/GPU performance of the iPhone 4S is not comparable to the Galaxy S2, and I would argue the features are very much superior too.

    Which, incidentally, along with the dual-antenna design, Siri, brand new camera, makes the iPhone 4S much more of a step up than the Samsung Galaxy to Samsung Galaxy S2. (The Galaxy S was about the same performance as the iPhone 4. The Galaxy S2 is slower than the iPhone 4S, therefore iPhone 4S is a bigger upgrade).

    And of course, as Anand said, they thoroughly review most phones, and as the other poster says, the Android phones come out way more often so over the same length of time they get at least as much if not more coverage.
    Reply
  • Tetracycloide - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    The Galaxy S2 released in May. The 4S released in October. The next Galaxy phone, the generation the 4S is actually going to compete with, is the Galaxy Nexus. What I'm saying is your point would hold more water (or any at all) if Samsung didn't make 2 upgrades in the space of time it took Apple to do 1 so the differential between generations is hardly an apples to apples comparison (pun intended). Reply
  • thunng8 - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    But the Galaxy Nexus isn't any faster than the S2. The main benefit is the new operating system and higher resolution screen.

    The Nexus is actually a significant step backwards from the S2 in terms of camera (likely from the samples on the prototype) and GPU (definitely since it is using the SGX540) performance
    Reply
  • doobydoo - Wednesday, November 02, 2011 - link

    Release dates will not stop phone users comparing the iPhone 4S to the Androids released in March 2012, just like they compared all the Androids over the last 17 months to the iPhone 4.

    The iPhone 4S, right now, is competing with the Galaxy S2 directly.

    The Nexus Prime, as the other comment alluded to, is a significant downgrade from the Samsung Galaxy S2. Indeed, it uses the same GPU as used in the much older Samsung Galaxy S (albeit clocked higher).

    The Galaxy S to S2 took approximately a year inbetween generations (June 2010 to May 2011), which is very much in line with the typical Apple release cycle of annually (this year was the exception). Even this year, with the extended timeline between iPhone 4 and 4S, Samsung didn't make 2 upgrades during that time. Your point would hold more water (or any at all) if it had.
    Reply
  • Tetracycloide - Wednesday, November 02, 2011 - link

    It's obvious you're not making a real comparison between current products but instead of admitting that you pretend it's a non-issue and then strangely fought that issue anyway by suggesting I'm not actually right to call you out on these shenanigans. So thanks for being obtuse about this, it makes it much easier to dismiss your position as that of an irrational fan-boy (at least it does when combined with the condescension in some of the other threads you've commented on here). Reply
  • doobydoo - Friday, December 02, 2011 - link

    'It's obvious you're not making a real comparison between current products'

    Erm, huh?

    That's EXACTLY what I'm doing.

    What YOU'RE doing is asking is to compare a phone which isn't even out yet with a phone which is. You're trying to 'pretend it's a non-issue' that the phone you say the iPhone 4S should be compared with wasn't even out when this discussion started. THAT is the definition of fanboy-ism. It's like the constant like of Android fans 'x WILL be better when it eventually comes out' - and THAT is obtuse.

    So, the only comments which can be dismissed are YOUR fanboy comments about 'x phone released in x months will be better'. Turns out you were wrong anyway, but that's irrelevant - the bottom line is you don't want iPhone to be compared to CURRENT Android phones, but instead compared to FUTURE ones.

    Rational, much?

    As it happens, it's out now, and isn't even much of an improvement on the Samsung Galaxy S2
    Reply
  • Lucian Armasu - Wednesday, November 02, 2011 - link

    The cameras seem to be about the same, according to Anand. I've actually found the SGS II camera to be a bit better in photo comparisons. Siri? I still think it's more of a gimmick for now. Maybe in 5-10 years it will be actually useful. Once the novelty expires, people will barely even use it in a few months. The same happened with FaceTime which everyone went crazy about at launch, and then they stopped using it completely.

    The CPU of the SGS2 IS faster than iPhone 4S CPU. There's no way Apple managed to get a 50% performance improvement for the same Cortex A9 chip that Samsung is using.

    I think Anand can confirm this. He wasn't very clear in the review. He was only talking about the improvements it gets over the old Cortex A8.
    Reply

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