iFixit iPhone 8 Teardown Finds Qualcomm Gigabit Modem

iPhone 8 vs Samsung Galaxy S8

The iPhone 8 runs Qualcomm’s finest modem—it just doesn’t have the antennas to deliver its finest performance, iFixit’s annual iPhone teardown reveals.

The most notable part in iFixit’s teardown is the Qualcomm X16 modem with its WTR5975 RF transciever. This is the same modem used in leading Android smartphones, including the Samsung Galaxy S8, Note 8, Moto Z2 Force, and the Essential PH-1. We looked at where those phones stand in terms of modem features last week.

The X16 is capable of “gigabit” speeds, which aren’t really gigabit anywhere outside test labs, but they’re the fastest speeds that current networks are capable of. As we saw in our Fastest Mobile Networks tests, the Samsung Galaxy S8’s “gigabit” system was noticeably faster than other phones even on pre-“gigabit” networks.

But alas, the iPhone 8 is not a gigabit phone after all. To hit gigabit speeds, you need three components: the modem, antennas for 4×4 MIMO, and software support for 256/64QAM encoding. We’ve learned that the iPhone 8 doesn’t have the four antennas needed for 4×4 MIMO, which would restrict it to either 600Mbps or 800Mbps, depending on the way the rest of the phone is configured.

The lack of 4×4 isn’t just about speed. 4×4 MIMO tends to improve coverage in edge and weak signal areas, which may contribute to why the iPhone 8 still takes longer to recover from dead zones than the Galaxy S8, in our testing.

You’ll still get better performance on the iPhone 8 versus the iPhone 7, which had Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X12, especially in Canada. The X16 supports four-carrier aggregation, which Bell and Telus in Canada are using to achieve real-world speeds pushing 500Mbps, according to our Fastest Mobile Networks Canada tests. The iPhone 7’s X12 only had three-carrier aggregation.

This Happened on Purpose

Apple could have put 4×4 MIMO antennas in its phone; it probably didn’t because of Intel.

There are three different SKUs of each iPhone 8 model: one with CDMA, one without, and one for Japan. We’re pretty sure the CDMA and Japan SKUs use the X16. But we think the third model uses an Intel modem, the XMM7480, which doesn’t support 4×4 MIMO. Apple doesn’t want the different models of its phone to perform very differently.

There’s no teardown of an Intel version of the iPhone 8 yet, but we think it’ll come in time. We’ll keep peering into the iPhone 8’s modem capabilities over the next week and keep you updated.