Why Doesn’t Apple’s iPhone SE Have the Fastest 5G?

The new iPhone SE boasts a fast A15 CPU and true 5G, but it lacks millimeter-wave, which is an important part of the 5G equation. According to Apple’s support site, none of the five global iPhone SE versions feature the high-band 5G system that Verizon required until now.

Cost and Verizon’s much-heralded new C-band 5G network, which means the carrier can finally drop its high-band requirement on lower-end phones, are likely to be the driving factors.

Until now, only one major wireless carrier, Verizon, mandated millimeter-wave in many phones. Apple also doesn’t want to annoy Verizon.

However, Verizon is evolving. It has moved its focus away from mmWave and onto its new sub-6GHz C-band network, which bears the same “ultra wideband” branding as mmWave but offers significantly more range. Because the iPhone SE supports C-band, users will be able to access Verizon’s new less-congested airwaves, see the “5G UW” indicator in their status bar, and experience speeds that are far faster than 4G.

The SE is the first Verizon phone with C-band but no mmWave, but I doubt it will be the last. Phone manufactures realize that by removing mmWave, they can offer less priced smartphones, and the iPhone demonstrates this in two ways.

Not New Frequencies, but an Old Body

The iPhone SE costs $429 this year, which is $30 more than prior generations. Is this related to 5G, the worldwide chipset shortage, or the loss of the Russian market, or something else entirely? What are the chances?

However, it’s well known that mmWave 5G tends to drive up phone prices. Millimeter-wave variants of phones with non-mmWave versions, such as the Google Pixels, have often cost roughly $100 extra at retail. Verizon offers some low-priced mmWave phones, but it’s unclear whether the company is willing to absorb any of the expense in order to attract customers to its network.

Apple, on the other hand, is the world’s toughest negotiator with its suppliers, and it has its own millimeter-wave module design. It is not required to purchase antennas from Qualcomm. If it felt it essential to integrate mmWave in its latest phone, I’m not persuaded it wouldn’t have been able to strike a deal.

Apple would have had to re-engineer its case design, which would have increased the price. There is no room for mmWave antenna modules in the iPhone 8 body on which the SE is constructed. Millimeter-wave requires special new modules (preferably four of them) that look like little rectangles. Sub-6GHz 5G can be run on a phone’s existing antenna system, but millimeter-wave requires special new modules (ideally four of them).

mmWave modules can be installed on the phone’s sides or back, as shown on the iPhone 12/13 and Samsung Galaxy S22. However, a glass-and-aluminum back like the iPhone SE’s would necessitate cutting windows into it for the new mmWave modules, as well as additional room in the casing.

With no one actually requesting mmWave any longer, and the technology adding expense to Apple’s cheapest model, the company opted to drop it. Apple will point out that if you want high-band 5G in a tiny iPhone, there’s a perfect solution: The iPhone 12 mini is $599, and the iPhone 13 mini is $699.

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