As countries around the world begin transitioning from 4G to 5G cellular technologies, Samsung has a decided advantage over its top rivals: Its high-end phones commonly outperform Apple’s top iPhones and Huawei’s flagship phones in download speeds, including in the United States. That’s the key finding from a new OpenSignal study today covering 73 countries, illustrating a challenge Apple faces as data speeds become increasingly important selling points for premium mobile devices.
OpenSignal segmented its findings into three tiers of smartphones — high-, mid-, and low-tier — and noted that each of the three largest smartphone makers dominated one segment. Samsung won the high tier, where Apple puts most of its emphasis, delivering a global average of 26.6 Megabits per second compared with 25.1Mbps for Apple and 24.4Mbps for Huawei, though the gaps were much larger in some countries. In Norway, Samsung users saw 14Mbps faster speeds than iPhone users, and 12Mbps boosts over Huawei users. Even in the United States, one of the iPhone’s top-selling countries, the gap was 8.2Mbps faster in favor of Samsung over Apple.
The report wasn’t entirely bad for Apple. Though Samsung users saw faster speeds in 35% of countries, Apple users had the edge in 17.5% of countries, with its largest advantages over Samsung in the United Arab Emirates (14.5Mbps better) and Taiwan (8Mbps). OpenSignal notes that Apple’s devices were the fastest in the mid-tier category, devices that don’t include the latest network technologies, while Huawei had the fastest speeds for low-tier users.
Unsurprisingly, South Korean users saw the best download speeds with high-tier phones, averaging 70.4Mbps, lagged modestly by Canada (67.1Mbps) and Singapore (65.4Mbps), with the worst performance in Iraq (6.6Mbps) — an over 10:1 difference. High-tier phones outperformed low-tier ones by as much as 4.3 times in Thailand, and were at least twice as fast in 25 of the studied countries.
Raw download speeds aren’t the only area where high-tier phones dominated lower ones: Latency, a key factor impacting device and network responsiveness for applications such as VR and gaming, favors the higher end as well. OpenSignal says that high-tier phones outperformed low-tier phones by 18% — a meaningful drop of 11.1 milliseconds in latency — with a 14% benefit over mid-tier phones, signaling the differences that are likely to be seen more broadly across cellular networks in the near future.
It’s worth noting that Apple has been at a self-imposed disadvantage relative to Samsung, which develops many of its own cellular modems and sources others from leading mobile chipmaker Qualcomm. Due to its troubled relationship with Qualcomm, Apple gave most of its modem business to Intel, which struggled to keep up with Qualcomm’s annual performance improvements before giving up on smartphone modems. Following a settlement, Apple is expected to use Qualcomm 5G modems in 2020, then transition at some point to its own modems.
In the meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether Apple will be able to erase the download performance gaps between its devices and those of its top rivals. Samsung, Huawei, and Qualcomm have all been aggressively working on next-generation 5G modem technologies supporting even higher download speeds, in some cases achieving up to 7Gbps. Apple’s most expensive phones this year are expected to be stuck on the 4G standard, which has markedly lower peak download speeds but is more commonly available worldwide.