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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  • thunng8 - Wednesday, November 02, 2011 - link

    Subjectively similar, but if you read the detailed analysis, the iphone4S camera is sharper even without resorting to a high level of software sharpening. Reply
  • steven75 - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    Hardly anyone bought an iPhone 4 for facetime. That's very different from what's happening with Siri, whether it stays that way long term or not. Reply
  • doobydoo - Friday, December 02, 2011 - link

    Where's your evidence that the CPU in the Samsung Galaxy S2 is faster?

    Apple aren't using the same chip, they're using their own custom version of it.

    The CPU/GPU combination in the iPhone 4S is faster, full stop.
    Reply
  • kepler - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    I disagree, there were plenty of review for Android phones, as they come out. He did the Incredible and Thunderbolt pretty thoroughly. The difference is that he can't review 15 Android phones from 5 different manufacturers every month.

    I'm sure we'll get a great spread on the Galaxy Nexus, and possibly the Razr, as they are big ticket items. I know I pretty much just skim the Apple stuff, as I'm not a big fan of Apple, its practices of litigation over innovation, not to mention the moral distaste of Mr. Jobs. I think iOS is a child's OS, behind the times as it is, and Siri is just a gimmick to try to keep the outdated OS alive for (hopefully) its last iteration.

    Of course, none of that means that it isn't a good product.
    Reply
  • doobydoo - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    'iOS is a child's OS'

    Just like Google is a child's search engine.

    As Einstein said, everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.

    Usability matters.
    Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    In what universe is hardware or practical OS performance faster with Android?

    Your bias, keep an eye on it.
    Reply
  • medi01 - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    In what universe did you have a chance to compare (legit) OS performance on the same hardware, you clown? Reply
  • doobydoo - Tuesday, November 01, 2011 - link

    Huh? In what universe could you not understand a basic sentence?

    He didn't say he'd measured two different OS's on the same hardware. He essentially said he could compare the REALITY of both sets of phones (Android and iOS) by taking into account their PRACTICAL performance, that being performance taking into account BOTH the hardware they run on and the software they run on.

    In other words, in the real world, iPhones DO use iOS, and Android phones DO use Android, putting one OS on the other hardware (which you are suggesting) would be completely irrelevant. What is relevant, however, is how they both ACTUALLY perform, given the reality of their software. And that has been measured throughout this article and shows the iPhone 4S is currently the best performing phone there is.

    Even taking the software aside, direct comparisons have been made between the Mali-400 in the SG2 and the much faster 543 in the iPhone 4S.
    Reply
  • claytontullos - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    I feel as though the throughput difference between ATT and Version/Sprint isn't being leveraged enough.

    I would really like you guys to review the Samsung Galaxy Note paying special attention to if it bridges the gap between tablet and phone.

    -
    Clayton
    Reply
  • CharonPDX - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    I am often in crowded areas where I theoretically have a strong 3G signal, but have no data throughput. Yet if I drop to EDGE (on my old iPhone,) I can get slow-but-usable data service.

    I also use it to save battery life.

    On the 4S, I can't do that any more. And *REALLY* aggravatingly, Apple advertises "2G battery life", yet you can't force it into 2G mode any more!
    Reply

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