Smartphone Network Specs are more important than people think.

Smartphone Network Specs are more important than people think.

Most people do not even take a look at the network specifications of a smartphone which is fine. But there is actually a lot of differences in network specifications too just like processor or storage specifications of a smartphone.

The specifications for the data speeds and WIFI are separately mentioned. Depending on these specifications, your smartphone could have 5Mbps or 25Mbps download speeds on the same network as well as low latency.

The WIFI speeds matter but not as much as data speeds unless you are using public WIFI daily (more on this later). The range of WIFI changes from smartphone to smartphone which should be the factor to look at if you mostly use WIFI at your home.

Still not convinced that the data speeds are a lot different on the flagship and budget smartphones, watch this video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7QJNka8B2E&t=495s

If you want to short version of this video. The data speed tests were performed on the same network and at the same time.

Nokia 6.1 Plus achieved 2.10 Mbps Download and 1.27 Mbps Upload.
Samsung Note 9 achieved 10.63 Mbps Download and 6.36 Mbps Upload.
Moto One Power achieved 4.33 Mbps Download and 2.15 Mbps Upload.
Xiaomi Pocophone f1 achieved 8.04 Mbps Download and 22.29 Mbps Upload.
Huawei Honor 8X achieved 3.85 Mbps Download and 2.40 Mbps Upload.

Now that we have proved that the data speeds are very different on a budget vs a flagship smartphone, let’s move on to the next step.

Network Specifications

To understand the differences in the real world speeds of a network of smartphones, we first need to understand the specifications of the network.

The specifications of a network depend on the SOC (system on chip) because the network modem is embedded with processor chip, GPU and other essentials. To put it in simple words, each processor model (e.g. Snapdragon 845 or A11 Bionic) has a specific modem attached to it. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 has x20 LTE modem.

We are only going to be focusing on the 4G specifications as it is available in every smartphone and every country now.

Let me get the specification of Samsung Note 9 which is written as LTE-A (5CA) Cat18 1200/200 Mbps on GSMArena.

LTE-A means Long Term Evolution-Advanced which is called true 4G in other words. The thing is 4G LTE could not meet the minimum requirements of true 4G which is why 4G LTE is actually 3.9G not 4G. LTE-A is called true 4G. I am not writing the exact download and upload speeds of true 4G because it still varies from region to region. A rough estimate is LTE-A is about 3 times faster than LTE in real-world performance.

Carrier Aggregation or CA: is a feature of LTE-A which combines two or more LTE carriers into a single data which enhances the data bandwidth by up to 5 times. Normally the bandwidth of one LTE carrier is up to 20Mhz. Carrier aggregation can combine a maximum of 5 LTE carriers which in turn gives us 20MHz x 5 =100 MHz of bandwidth.

The carriers which are to be combined could be of the same frequency band or different frequency band. Two different network frequency bands like AT&T and Verizon could also be combined in some scenarios.

Importance of Frequency Bands: The frequency bands are given for 2G,3G, and 4G separately in the specifications of each smartphone on the GSMArena website. The frequency bands you need to look at are the 4G bands because most of the time you would be using 4G on your smartphone.

Normally, the more bands a smartphone has, the better. A smartphone having more bands would be better at carrier aggregation. In carrier aggregation, other network frequency bands are combined with your network bands to provide you better data speeds.

If your smartphone does not support the frequency bands of the other networks in your country or region, the smartphone would not be able to perform carrier aggregation with them and you would get poor speeds.

You do not have to look for every frequency band. Just look at the frequency bands of all the networks available in your area and buy a smartphone with all those frequency bands in it.

Category or CAT: You can guess about the speed of a smartphone by just looking at the CAT number. The higher the CAT number, the better the 4G speeds would be. I have listed some LTE categories with their speeds and aggregation options. The speeds written for each category are theoretical speeds that can only be achieved in labs and not in the real world.

LTE CLASSSpeedsAggregation Options
Category 12600 Mbps download
100 Mbps upload
3 x 20MHz download
2 x 20MHz upload
Category 10450 Mbps download
100 Mbps upload
3 x 20MHz download
Category 9450 Mbps download
50 Mbps upload
2 x 20MHz download
2 x 20MHz upload
Category 7300 Mbps download
100 Mbps upload
3 x 20MHz download
2 x 20MHz upload
Category 4150 Mbps download
50 Mbps upload
2 x 10MHz download

MIMO: Multiple Input Multiple Output means you can have multiple antennas that send and receive multiple streams of data. iPhone XS, Pixel 3 and Samsung S9 have 4×4 MIMO which means they have 4 antennas and iPhone XR has 2×2 MIMO means two antennas.

A higher number of antennas means more data and Wifi speeds. The antennas for Wifi and Data are separate.

Having double the antennas on iPhone XS means it has double the speed of the iPhone XR. But if your smartphone has 4×4 MIMO, the network you are connected to should also have 4×4 MIMO to get the full advantage. Having more antennas also means a better range even when you are connected to a network with fewer antennas.

This specification is not given in GSMArena but you can find this information by going to the chip manufacturer website. For example, search snapdragon 845 and go to the official Qualcomm website and look at the specification.

SnapDragon 845 Cellular Modem

QAM or Quadrature Amplitude Modulation: It sounds scary but it is not. This is just a modulation technique that offers 4-bit modulation. By changing the phase of the signal, we get 2-bit modulation. But by changing the phase and amplitude, we get 4-bit modulation which in turn provides 16 states. If you want more detail on this, watch the video below but you do not need to.

Let’s move on to WIFI specifications now.

WIFI: WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) which is in normal words called Wifi (Wireless Fidelity). The Wifi for smartphone in specifications is written as Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac.

These are different types of standards in WIFI:  802.11b802.11a802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac.

801.11ac is the latest and fastest generation of WIFI. This wifi generation even supports dual-band which refers to operating at 2.4GHZ as well as 5GHZ frequency.

wifi or wlan explained- whaddafudge

Most of the smartphones have 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac but some Budget smartphones still only have 802.11 b/g/n. In 802.11 b/g/n, 802.11n is the fastest generation Wifi but it is not as fast as 802.11ac and also does not support dual-band frequency.

How it Works:

There are five smartphone SOC manufacturers Qualcomm has Snapdragon, Apple has A-series, Samsung has Exynos, Mediatek has Helio-Series, and Huawei has HiKirin Silicon.

Each of these manufacturers has to make their own modems to install in their smartphones. The performance of all of these manufacturers’ modems in smartphones is different. This is the reason why the Samsung S9 with Qualcomm SD 845 and S9 with Exynos 9810 has different data speeds.

It is important to point out here that by just looking at the specifications, you can not get an estimate of how a smartphone will perform in the real world. It is not to say that specifications are useless.

The thing is if you have a smartphone with Cat18 1200/200 Mbps and another smartphone with Cat4 150/50 Mbps. You may think that I am never going to get even 150 Mbps download speed in my area, so I might as well just get the smartphone with Cat4 150/50 Mbps (150Mbps Download, 50Mbps Upload).

That is not the case, the smartphone with category 18 would perform better than the smartphone with category 4 under any conditions. If the category 4 smartphone is getting 4Mbps download speed, the category 18 smartphone would get at least double the speed i.e. 8Mbps.

Even in the Flagship smartphones, some smartphones perform better than other smartphones in data speeds. Let’s compare the Apple iPhone X with Samsung Note 9.

Samsung Note 9 has CAT 18 (1200 Mbps Download, 200 Mbps Upload) with 5 CA (Carrier Aggregation) and Apple iPhone X has Category 12 (600 Mbps Download, 150 Mbps Upload) with 3 CA (Carrier Aggregation).

A normal consumer might thing that no country has 600 Mbps download speeds and the iPhone X and Note 9 should perform similarly in the data speed test. This is not the case at all.

Samsung Note 9 destroys the Apple iPhone X in the Data speed tests performed by Jaime Rivera from Pocketnow. He performed the speed tests in different areas of America including crowded and less crowded area and the results were really surprising. Just watch the video below to understand what I am saying.

Hopefully, the video I shared cleared your confusion as to why you need a smartphone with better network specifications for faster data speeds.

The next thing is the WIFI. The Wifi specification does not matter as much as the data speeds. Most Budget smartphones have only 2.4GHz frequency but all of the Flagship and some Mid-range smartphones have 2.4GHz as well as 5GHz frequency support. The higher the frequency, the more bandwidth a connection has. This is why new modems are based on 5GHz frequency for higher speeds as well as low latency.

When you are using Wifi at home and only a few devices are connected to it, the smartphone with the better Wifi would not have any advantage. But if you have guests over and a lot of devices are connected to the Wifi router. The devices with a better or stronger Wifi would be able to draw more data packets from the modem than the smartphones with weak Wifi.

Also the better the Wifi of a smartphone, the more range it will have.

The same thing applies to the public Wifi where a lot of people are using the internet and the bandwidth is being shared among the users connected to the modem.

In this scenario; If you have Samsung Note 10 or Huawei Mate 30 Pro, you would get a lot more internet speeds than the guy who has a Nokia 6.1 Plus.

Normally, Premium smartphones have better Wifi but it is not always the case. Case in point is the Xiaomi Pocophone F1 which costs 300$ and has a Flagship grade Wifi performance. But Pocophone f1 does not support a lot of frequency bands due to which it does not perform well in carrier aggregation.

Recommendations

The specification of a smartphone network is a lot complicated than the Processor or GPU. But it is essential to understand at least the basics to get the most out of your device.

Having said that, these are a few recommendations and a summary of the whole article.

  1. Look at the specifications on the GSMArena website [LTE-A (5CA) Cat18 1200/200 Mbps]. The higher the CAT number, the better download and upload speeds. The higher the number for carrier aggregation or CA, the better.
  2. Flagship smartphones have better Data and Wifi speeds and range than budget and mid-range smartphones but there are some exceptions.
  3. The more frequency bands a smartphone has, the better.
  4. The higher the MIMO, the better. 4×4 MIMO has twice the speeds of 2×2 MIMO.
  5. Smartphones having the same SOC (system on chip) could have different data speeds. Not all flagship smartphones have the same data speeds.

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Anas Abdullah

Tech Enthusiast, Content Writer, Part-time Gamer.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Florencia Biel

    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two pictures.

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