Apple working with Intel to develop 5G modem for future iPhones: Report

By Karthekayan Iyer | Published on Nov 20 2017
Apple working with Intel to develop 5G modem for future iPhones: Report

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Apple is engaged in a bitter patent lawsuit with Qualcomm and might drop the latter as modem supplier as early as next year. The company is also fully embracing and supporting Intel for development of 5G modems for 2019 iPhones.

Apple's relationship with Qualcomm has been jeopardised by a patent lawsuit and the Cupertino-based iPhone maker is leaning towards Intel to provide 5G modems for future iPhones. Fast Company reports that Apple has started working closely with Intel for the development of 5G chipsets for iPhones.

Apple made Intel one of its supplier for modem chips with the launch of the iPhone 7 last year. It currently uses modem chipsets from both Intel and Qualcomm for its iPhone lineup and Intel is believed to be a laggard in terms of its technological expertise. The San Diego-based Qualcomm showcased its fully featured 5G modem in October last year, while Intel demonstrated its 5G modem chips at CES this year.

The report adds that Intel now has thousands of engineers working on the 5G modem and are engaged with Apple's engineers to design a chipset that will eventually be used on iPhones supporting 5G connectivity in 2019 or 2020. Intel, which lost out in the mobile space to ARM and Qualcomm, considers the development of 5G modem for future iPhone as a "must-win" situation.

Technically, Qualcomm's 5G modem is said to offer specialised carrier features like Uplink Carrier Aggregation, but sources say carriers will not widely adopt this feature. Apple engineers, meanwhile, believe that Intel's 5G model will suffice the needs of a future iPhone. Last week, Intel confirmed that it has completed a full end-to-end 5G call based on its early silicon, showing major progress in its efforts towards becoming a major supplier for Apple. With 5G, iPhone users will be able to experience gigabit download speeds on their mobile device. The technology is said to require more coordination between smartphone makers and chipset vendors well ahead of official deployment.

Apple is said to be using a modem from Intel in its iPhones for T-Mobile and AT&T's GSM networks, while Qualcomm modems are being used in its iPhones for Verizon and Sprint's CDMA network. With the switch to 5G, Qualcomm is likely to lose its edge as Intel has agreed to customise its chipsets according to Apple's requirement.

Since Qualcomm intensified its patent lawsuit against Apple with the request to ban the import of iPhones with Intel modem, analysts have stated that Apple will fully embrace Intel for modem needs. Apple wants to integrate Intel's 5G modem into its SoC incorporating its own CPU, GPU and other iPhone components. The System-on-Chip (SoC) is expected to be co-designed by Intel and Apple and would be fabricated at an Intel facility.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Apple has started building prototype iPhones with Intel modems and is planning to drop Qualcomm and add MediaTek as the second supplier. Apple stands to gain by dropping Qualcomm since it will get away with royalty payments but overall, it will be a win for Intel which was always seen as an outsider in the smartphone space.

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Karthekayan Iyer

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