Last night, Apple officially announced that it was buying Intel’s smartphone modem division in a $1 billion deal. Apple will acquire a patent pool and around 2,200 employees.
Naturally, Apple wants to use this talent to accelerate the development of its own modems. A Reuters report quotes sources that says Apple wants to ship an in-house 5G modem in its devices as soon as 2021.
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For 2019, the iPhone 11 will not be a 5G-capable device. It will continue to use an Intel 4G modem. In 2020, thanks to the multibillion-dollar settlement deal with Qualcomm, Apple is expected to use a Qualcomm modem in the 2020 iPhone with 5G capability.
Reuters now suggests that in the year after that, Apple will begin to ship modems of its own design. Previously, estimates for when Apple’s own modem would be complete stretched into 2025.
A person familiar with the matter said Apple plans to use Qualcomm’s modem technology for a 5G iPhone in 2020 but wants to have an internally developed 5G modem technology ready for use in some of its products by 2021. Intel previously disclosed plans to have a 5G modem ready by 2020, so tapping the Intel assets could help Apple hit its target.
There is a slight qualification in that the report does not say Apple will use its own modem chip in all devices, nor even the iPhone per se.
Apple is likely to switch away from Qualcomm modems gradually, perhaps starting with a secondary product like a 5G iPad, to test the waters. It is probably too risky and too aggressive to expect an Apple 5G modem powering the 2021 iPhone.
The Reuters report suggests Apple could start with lower-end models first, continuing to use Qualcomm modems for its flagship high-end iPhones, until Apple built up the confidence in the performance characteristics of its own modem chips.
Apple has about six years’ runway on the current Qualcomm deal, so it doesn’t have to rush. If the project deadline slips, then Apple will continue to rely on Qualcomm for a bit longer.
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