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Report: Apple is now all-in on creating own modems in pursuit of 5G iPhone

Without Qualcomm's support, Apple is in a heck of a bind when it comes to creating a 5G iPhone.

Published onApril 4, 2019

iPhone XS Max in man's hand against a white backdrop.
Apple and Samsung will continue to be Blackberry's biggest challengers in the enterprise market.
  • A new report suggests Apple is now heavily invested in the creation of its own smartphone modems.
  • This new investment is reportedly paired with news that Apple’s relationship with Intel is growing very strained.
  • If Apple is creating its own modems, it is likely we wouldn’t see a 5G iPhone until 2021.

Back in February, we heard a rumor about Apple investing in the creation of its own modems. The report suggested that Apple’s modem partner Intel wasn’t delivering what Apple needed so the company was looking to take the reins and phase Intel out.

Now, according to a new report from Fast Company, Apple has significantly ramped up its efforts when it comes to creating its own smartphone modems. This information is paired with the suggestion that Apple’s relationship with Intel has grown significantly sour.

Apple already makes its own mobile processors for the iPhone, but up until the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR, it relied mostly on Qualcomm for cellular modems. However, Apple and Qualcomm have been engaged in bitter legal fights around the world, and now Qualcomm refuses to sell modems to Apple.

This sales embargo couldn’t have come at a worse time for Apple as the company needs a 5G modem for a future 5G iPhone. As of now, Qualcomm is pretty much the only company that has what Apple needs. Previously, Apple hoped Intel would be able to produce something comparable to get a 5G iPhone to market, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

Apple might make its own modems, cutting reliance on Intel (and Qualcomm)

Instead, Apple reportedly now has between 1,000 to 2,000 engineers working on the modem project, many of which were hired from both Intel and Qualcomm. This development effort has strained the relationship between Apple and Intel, with Intel’s CEO allegedly wondering why his company should be working with Apple at all.

For what it’s worth, Intel is confident it could deliver a 5G modem to Apple by 2020: “As we said in November 2018, Intel plans to support customer device launches in 2020 with its XMM 8160 5G multimode modem,” an Intel representative told Fast Company.

However, Apple clearly does not share Intel’s optimism.

If Apple truly is going it alone, we likely wouldn’t see a 5G-enabled iPhone until 2021, putting Apple two years behind its Android competitors. Granted, the 5G networks of the future will still be maturing at that point, so it might not hurt Apple too much in the long run. However, it will be a tough PR situation with Apple needing to figure out a way to play down the lack of 5G support with not only the iPhones expected in 2019 but those in 2020 as well.

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