Starting at 12:01 PDT on Friday, Apple will start selling two versions of the iPhone X in the US: the A1865 version and the A1901 version. If you’re not aware that two models exist, Apple won’t give you an option of which to purchase: you’ll be issued one of the two based on which carrier you’re on. But one of the two models contains an inferior cellular modem, which’ll mean more dropped calls, worse reception, and lower data rates.
The reason why the two models are so different is that they contain different cellular modems. The A1865 model contains a Qualcomm MDM9655 Snapdragon X16 LTE modem, while the A1901 model contains an Intel XMM 7480 model.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 modem is the better modem: it operates considerably better in low-signal conditions, offers better data rates, and supports both CDMA and GSM technologies. The Intel chipset doesn’t work with CDMA networks (such as Verizon and Sprint), and operates less well in areas with weak signal.
If you purchase the iPhone X online and are on a post-paid Sprint or Verizon plan, you’ll be sold the superior A1865 model. But if you’re on AT&T and T-Mobile and purchase online, Apple will ship you the inferior A1901 model, despite the fact that the A1865 model is perfectly compatible with both carriers and offers better reception.
Why don't all iPhones have the better Qualcomm chipset?
This pattern of selling two devices, one with an Intel modem and another with a Qualcomm modem, actually began with the iPhone 7 in 2016. Apple and Qualcomm have been bitter courtroom rivals, with multiple lawsuits between the two companies. Qualcomm claims that Apple has stolen patents, and has asked US trade regulators to ban iPhone imports, while Apple claims that Qualcomm is a “monopoly” and operates an “illegal business model.”
By introducing Intel chipsets into the iPhone in 2017, Apple sought to move away from their reliance on Qualcomm’s chipsets. However, Intel’s cellular chipsets don’t support the CDMA and EV-DO technologies that were built by Qualcomm and used by Verizon and Sprint’s 2G voice and 3G data network. Since many users still rely on 2G and 3G voice and data for calls, Apple could only switch users of AT&T and T-Mobile over to using the Intel chipsets.
How much better is the A1865 model?
We don't know exactly - we haven't seen any definitive tests comparing the two chipsets yet. But tests of last year's iPhone 7 showed that devices with Qualcomm chipsets performed consistently better than those with Intel chipsets in every possible single condition on every cellular band. In some cases the data throughput rates for the Qualcomm-variants were more than twice as fast than the slower Intel-based devices, and they were also able to maintain a signal at weaker signal levels than the Intel versions That means half of Apple's iPhone 7 users experienced significantly fewer dropped calls, better reception in low-signal areas, and faster data rates.
How to get an A1865 model if you are on AT&T or T-Mobile:
* Don’t purchase an Apple phone locked to Sprint. Sprint iPhone’s are sold locked, and you won’t be able to replace the SIM card without getting the device unlocked.
Another way to improve your iPhone's cell phone signal
If you're stuck with an iPhone 7, iPhone 8 or iPhone X on an inferior Intel chipset, or you generally suffer from signal problems, there's still hope. By amplifying your cell phone signal inside your home or office, you can significantly improve both your dropped call rate and increase data rates. Consider purchasing a cell signal booster for AT&T, T-Mobile, or whichever carrier you're on.