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How to fix iPhone XS LTE + Wi-Fi problems

It feels like every time a new iPhone launches or a new version of iOS comes out, some percentage of people who had issues with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or cellular networking get their problems solved, and some percentage who didn't start having issues for the first time. That's probably a reflection of just how complex modern radios and carriers are, and all of our setups that go along with them.

But, as we move to mesh networks, Gigabit LTE and 5G, Bluetooth 5.0 and AirPlay 2, these systems can't just keep getting faster and more complicated. They need to get easier and more absolutely, point final, more reliable.

Latest cases in point - complaints around iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max wireless networking.

Cellular set-backs

For cellular, it seems like primarily Verizon customers in the U.S. are seeing fewer bars in fringe places — those areas where getting and keeping a signal is already a challenge.

The prevailing theory is that Apple has gone all-in on Intel modems this year where previously they used a mix of Qualcomm modems for legacy CDMA carriers, namely Verizon and Sprint, and Intel for GSM carriers, namely AT&T, T-Mobile, and most of the rest of the world.

Infineon, the original iPhone modem supplier, was bought by Intel in 2011 and, since then, Intel has desperately been trying to become competitive with Qualcomm, including and especially for Apple's business.

I guess they figure if they can't get their x86 chips anywhere near Apple's A-Series or the iPhone, their modems are better than nothing…

The problem is, Qualcomm is near predatory in its business practices. So much so, it's been investigated by multiple jurisdictions. You see, Qualcomm's business isn't really chips. It's patents. And while, most of the time, if you want your patents to become part of an international standard, you have to agree to license those patents under FRAND — fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory — terms, Qualcomm has managed to keep a lot of key wireless patents at a premium.

It's Qualcomm's contention that radios are so valuable, device makers including but not limited to Apple, should pay not just for the parts but a percentage of revenue — some say retail, not just wholesale — for the privilege of using them.

I mean, good for Qualcomm. You go. Get yours. It's ultimately short-sighted and unsustainable — cameras and other components are arguably just as important these days, imagine if 9 different vendors all wanted 20% of retail each… let the patent lawyers do the math on that — but it makes both courts and customers cranky in the extreme.

It's led to vicious legal battles between Qualcomm and, among others, Apple. In this specific case, with Apple accusing Qualcomm of price gouging and Qualcomm accusing Apple of, and I kid you not, ratting them out to the feds and sharing trade secrets with Intel.

Now, all of that is Apple's and Qualcomm's problem. None of it should affect us in any way. But, since Apple wants nothing to do with Qualcomm right now, it looks like everyone is getting Intel modems instead.

Apple went so far as to destroy the x-axis symmetry on iPhone XS and iPhone XS plus in a way we haven't seen since the days of the headphone jack in order to add extra antenna for 4x4 MIMO in order to provide the best, most flexible reception possible.

If you were on AT&T or T-Mobile, the good news is the new antenna in iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max should work even better for you.

Of course, a lot can depend on your precise position relative to the tower and everything from your case to your walls to the weather in between, because radio science is still terrible and demands sacrifices for every gain.

If you were on Verizon or Sprint, switching to a new modem might be causing you some pain. My strong hunch is Apple and the carriers will be pushing out updates in the near future that, based on all the data they've seen to date, fine-tunes everything and fixes the vast majority of problems.

In the meantime, if nothing is working for you and it's driving you out of your frequency-ed mind, here are a few things you can try:

  • Toggle Airplane mode on-and-off, just to get the radio to re-connect and hopefully grab a better signal.
  • Toggle LTE on-and-off in Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Options, if you don't want to lose your connection but want to try for a better LTE connection, or even stick with 3G in an area where LTE just won't work.

If you don't mind escalating:

  • Go to Settings > General > Reset and reset network settings. It's a bit of a pain but it can give your new modem a clean new start.

And, the nuclear option:

  • Wipe everything and set up as a new iPhone. That's an incredible pain in the apps, even in the era where almost everything just syncs back, but it can knock out problems like nothing else can.

And I should note, wacky as it may sound, doing a restore over iTunes from your PC could help where on-device can't.

Wi-Fi woes

Same with the WI-Fi, which mostly seems to be suffering from an over-eagerness to jump on 2.4 Ghz networks instead of the generally more reliable 5 Ghz networks. If that's happening to you, and you don't need the 2.4 GHz part of your network, you can typically toggle it off in your router settings and force your iPhone to do the right thing — at least when it's on a network you control. If you need 2.4 Ghz for legacy devices or you're on networks you can't control, you can try some of the same trouble shooting steps I outlined above, starting with:

  • Go to Settings > Wi-Fi, and simply forgetting the network and adding it back

Then escalating up to resetting the network settings or doing a clean install, painful as it is.

Again, we go through this with every new phone and every new update, so it's nothing new. But that doesn't make it any less frustrating. It makes it even more.

Why we can't just get machine learning algorithms that chew through massive crowd-sourced data sets to constantly real-time tune all of our wireless connections, all of the time, I don't know. But I want them. Almost enough that I don't really care if it kicks off Skynet.

Update everything

These problems likely only affect a small percentage of people. But, at iPhone scale, there's really no such thing. Every percentage is huge.

If you're one of those people and if any of the suggestions I made helped mitigate or fix the issue for you, or if something else did instead. And if you're not having any problems, let me know how your iPhone XS or iPhone XS signal is doing and if it is faster and in more places.

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Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

27 Comments
  • My iPhone XS won’t retain a connection to my HomePod via Airplay and connecting in the first place is generally difficult. It also won’t maintain it for my Girlfiend’s HomePod via Airplay. My iPhone 7plus is fine. My daughters iPhone 6 is fine. My girlfriends iPhone 6plus is fine in both locations. I restored from a backup during set-up. Frustrated at this problem I then reset all content and settings for a clean install. The new iPhone gives exactly the same behaviour in both cases and at both locations (there are different routers at both locations) after the clean install. Yep for me this is a real problem; an I’m returning the phone to Apple problem.
  • Hey there see my comment below
  • if you people just hold your **** iphones correctly, Rene wouldn't need to pump article after article about fake fixes. Jeez.
  • 2010 called, asking for your iPhone 4 back
  • Try turning WiFi Assist off as drumzalicious said.
  • I was having WiFi connectivity issues with my iPhone 8 then upgraded to the XS and was still experiencing the connection issues. I ruled out my router as my MBP and other devices worked fine. Started digging through settings and voila! With the update to IOS12 or something at some point my phone had enabled “WiFi Assist”. This makes the phone disconnect when it feels the WiFi network is weaker than cell reception Once I disabled this it fixed all my issues. Hope this helps others. Settings - Cellular - all the way down “WiFi Assist” toggle off
  • I second this. WiFi Assist is one of those "smart" features where technology decides what's better for the user, rather than the user themselves, and I've found it to switch to cellular when there were no problems with the WiFi connection
  • Your title suggests a true fix when in reality there are some guesses (good guesses to be fair). None of the suggestions have made any differences for me. I actually went as far as returning my phone and getting another xs max and have the same issues as before. Hopefully they can fix the issue in software soon as I am sure I am not holding it wrong
  • If you're having Wi-Fi issues, try turning WiFi Assist off as drumzalicious mentioned
  • This isn't a fix, it's a band-aid that continually needs to be reapplied. Looking at the reports on WiWavelength a antenna redesign will be needed for a true solution which I don't see happening with this generation of phones. I sent back mine and my wife's XS's and will be ordering the XR's.
  • If you're having Wi-Fi issues, it's worth switching off WiFi Assist to see if that helps
  • This problem sounds like a hardware issue. How the **** can Apple put out a new device and not have it work on the biggest Carrier in the USA? I didn't buy the new iphone, using the iPhone 8 without any problems. This problem might be a tough one to fix and I'm willing to bet Verizon isn't very happy.
  • I do not think it is hardware. I think it is more software related as a co worker on the same Network as me is using the iPhone X and noticed her reception is not as strong as it used to be since iOS12.
  • You're holding it wrong.
  • Maybe we're just holding it wrong.
  • Not true about At&t. I am using the iPhone XS Max and the Note 9, both on At&t. My Note 9 has more bars than my iPhone. There have been times where I get the no reception at all, while the Note 9 has bars. The wifi is the same. Watching a short 13 second video clip at home on wifi and it buffers. I am hoping Apple releases an update soon. Fortunately for my iPhone is my back up device.
  • Blaming it on Qualcomm has to be the winner of straw man argument of the week.
  • Technically he said it was a "prevailing theory", not a direct blame.
  • Must be due to the asymmetrical design on the bottom. After all, Rene was clear that a company that doesn't have symmetry does not care about seeing our its customers...
  • *design or its customers
  • Your trolling is as bad as your typos
  • iMore (R), a Fox and Friends company ( read extremist left or right)... Really... Blame the complexity of radios (though Apple has been in this business 10 plus years) Blame Qualcomm (making patent money just like Apple and other companies) Don't blame the designer of the $1500 phone with poor signal. Yep, iMore is the extremist of Mobile news
  • Radios have gotten more complex with 4G, and with preparations for 5G as well. Blaming Qualcomm is wrong, but I doubt this is a design issue with the device, it could be a batch of faulty devices or something fixed by a software update as I'm having no problems with my XS
  • My one is fine. Just replace the phone if you have an issue.This sort of stuff happens.
  • I've not had any issues either, it does seem like something that would be fixed by either a software update or replacing the device.
  • How to fix iPhone XS LTE + Wi-Fi problems Simple. Get an iPhone X
  • Or just get your phone replaced rather than downgrading.