Wifi performance in smartphones analysed

Investigation requested: Broadcom versus Qualcomm

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Introduction

Mobile networks are constantly being improved. We see faster and faster versions of 4G, while 5G is already being developed. Yet there are plenty of scenarios in which you have to rely on that other wireless connection - wifi. It is time we compared wireless performance of a large number of devices.


Although free roaming is now possible within the European Union, unlimited data use - certainly without significant additional costs - is still a utopia. If you like to watch streaming video or stream yourself, listen to high quality streaming music or preferably communicate via Facetime and other video chats, you will eat through your data in no time, even if it allows multiple gigabytes. This is sufficient reason for many of us to connect via Wi-Fi instead of the mobile data network wherever possible. Also, when the connection falls back to 3G or the dreaded E(dge) icon appears, wifi is an attractive alternative.

When it comes to Wi-Fi performance, as a Hardware.Info reader you probably think of the router first. This is, of course, an important factor. It's not for nothing that we regularly subject them to rigorous testing to obtain the best possible performance. However, it is quite remarkable that for the client side of mobile devices (read: the WiFi chip in your smartphone), there has been almost no attention, while in the end you are always dependent on the weakest link in your connection. A beast of a router with a dizzying AC class and antennae is fun to have, but a single-stream device will not come even close to utilising the bandwidth offered by such a device.

Test range

There are too many variables in applying such a test to laptops, so it would not lead to any conclusion. However, it is possible to test for smartphones and we wanted to bridge this research gap. For this article we used 23 smartphones to find out how they perform when it comes to WiFi connection. When composing the test range, we tried to make the widest possible selection. For example, we have selected appliances from various manufacturers, ranging from 149 to 1080 euros (average prices based on our Price Comparison). We included both 802.11n and 802.11ac compatible devices. This led to the selection of participants consisting of both iOS and Android devices with a variety of SoCs from manufacturers such as Apple, HiSillicon, Mediatek, Samsung and Qualcomm.

Of course, we were particularly curious as to whether more expensive devices would also perform better. Would more euros also result in more megabits per second? Also, differences between the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands in particular had our interest, as had the collaboration with the two routers we used, of which more later. The test results can be found in the graphs attached to the article. An overview of all specifications and test results can be found here.


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