Want the phone with fastest internet in the US? Don't buy an iPhone

Samsung comes out on top overall but Apple's iPhone XR has the fastest download speeds among mid-tier rivals.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

For some reason, Samsung smartphones appear to be getting faster download speeds from US 4G cellular networks than iPhones, according to a study by OpenSignal. 

The company took measurements from 23 million devices worldwide in Q2 2019 and found that Samsung phones in the US get downloads that are 8.2Mbps faster than iPhone speeds. Samsung devices clock in at 28Mbps, while iPhones average 20Mbps in the US. 

"Given that Samsung makes a wide range of models from cheap to premium, while Apple only offers premium-priced models, this is an even more impressive result," OpenSignal notes in its report

Mobile download speeds overall are slower in the US than much of Europe. In Norway, Samsung users experience download speeds of 58Mbps compared with 46Mbps for iPhones.

SEE: IT pro's guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)

Samsung devices also come out on top when OpenSignal isolates 'high-tier' phones – a term applied to the mobile network experience – across the 40 countries included in the data survey. Samsung, Apple and Huawei users get download speeds of 26.6Mbps, 25.1Mbps, and 24.4Mbps, respectively. 

Factors that can influence download speeds include the ability to connect to more frequency bands, the ability to connect to multiple radio bands simultaneously, the use of multiple antennas, and the brand of modem. 

Overall Samsung devices enjoy faster download speeds than Apple and Huawei in 35% of 40 countries, while Apple users experience faster downloads in 17.5% of countries. 

On a worldwide basis, OpenSignal found that just 18% of Apple users are using a low-tier smartphone while 49% of Samsung users are on a low-tier device. 

While Samsung appears to outperform Apple at the high-end, Apple's mid-tier devices, including the iPhone XR, X, 8, 7, and 6s, have faster download speeds than equivalents from Samsung and Huawei, which include the Samsung M40, A80, A6s, and the Huawei P30 Lite, Enjoy 9e, and Y6. 

The company found that just 14% of iPhone devices in use are classified as 'high tier' – employing LTE category 16 or above – suggesting Apple invests more in other technologies, whereas all flagships from Samsung and Huawei feature gigabit-capable modems. 

"Apple's challenge is that few of its current models are high-tier devices when we group iPhone models based on their mobile network experience capabilities," writes OpenSignal. 

"In our measurements, just 14% of Apple users are high tier. Instead, Apple has chosen to focus its handset designs on other capabilities such as facial recognition, camera innovation, long battery life, and extremely fast application processors and graphics using Apple's in-house silicon designs.

That situation could change in the coming years as Apple develops its 5G strategy. Apple's new iPhone models to be launched 2020 are expected to feature 5G. However, one analyst believes that Apple's acquisition of Intel's 5G modem business will allow it to introduce 5G in its lower-end iPhone models to compete with cheaper Android handsets.   

Despite high-end phones featuring gigabit technology, no one in the world experiences anything close to gigabit-per-second download speeds. 

The country with the highest speeds among this class of device is South Korea, where users experience average download speeds of 70.6Mbps, followed by Canada where the average is 67.1Mbps. In the US, the average is 31.6Mbps.


Download speeds for smartphones from the top three makers vary widely, but on average Samsung comes out ahead of Apple and Huawei.

Image: OpenSignal
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