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Matthew Ahrenstein

DevOps Engineer for an amazing company, hiker, amateur radio operator, target shooter, and developer.

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That is a simple fact that most people do not seem understand. I’ve seen people fault the signal, the device itself, and even the internet provider, even though their laptop is having no issues. I’d like to clear up the confusing, and now I’m going to explain why this is the case. Here we go:

Q: Why is my iPhone 4/HTC Thunderbold/Droid 9001/etc’s wifi slower than my laptop’s wifi on the same hotspot/house/etc…
A: Your phone is a mobile device, and has limited speed capability

Q: But my mobile device has an 802.11n chip just like my laptop!!
A: There is more than one factor at play here. First off the 802.11n chip in your mobile device may meet the 802.11n specifications/standards/etc… but it is going to be a lower powered chip (except in the most extreme cases of engineering stupidity) due to battery concerns. After all you don’t want your shiny new iPhone 4S/Droid Bionic to have a 2 hour battery on wifi do you? In addition to the lower power wifi chip, you also have a mobile processor (Apple A4/A5 for example) instead of a desktop processor (Intel i5/i7) The device you are using can only process network information coming and going from your network card (ie: wifi chip) as fast as its processor can allow. You also have to consider RAM. You can take a 1GB RAM PC with DDR2 RAM and compare it with a 1GB RAM phone. IF RAM were the only factor, the phone would still be slower. Why? Because RAM in phones is also lower power due to battery constraints and other factors (front-side bus speed, chipset shit, etc…) So there you have it. 3 major hardware factors that affect your mobile devices speed.

Q: Is that all? It still seems like it could be faster.
A: Well there could be other things to make it slower. For example on the iPhone 4/4S Apple gives graphics (ala Retina Display) a higher processing priority than anything else (including network traffic) This keeps the iPhone UI as smooth as it is. Graphics take more processing power, so they SHOULD get a higher priority anyway. (except on servers of course)

Q: I’m angry! This is a rip off! Don’t call it Wifi unless it’s as fast as “real wifi”
A: I understand your pain, but can you really complain about this? Just 15 years ago my parents spent $2,000 on a computer that had a 233MHz processor, and 16MB of ram with no network access besides 56k dial up. Your iPhone 4 only costs $600 out of contract and comes with 1GHz processor, 512MB of RAM and internet access almost anywhere in the U.S. wirelessly. You have it pretty good, and so do I. Also technology advances at an exponential rate. Verizon’s 4G has theoretical speeds that are faster than the theoretical speeds of most DSL services. That means, in some locations you can potentially have a cell phone signal that is faster than your home internet connection anyway.