Apple finds out that making an iPhone 5G modem is hard
The iPhone 15 is destined to include a 5G modem made by Qualcomm
Apple’s vertical integration strategy is currently being championed by the fact that it ditched Intel to create its own M1 and now M2 “Apple Silicon” chipsets for Macs, and the results were spectacular for performance and power efficiency benchmarks. But, hold up, that Apple-must-own-everything idea won’t extend to the 5G modem for its iPhone in 2023, according to a new report, despite prior roadmap leaks.
The Cupertino-based company’s plan to sideline 5G modems made by Qualcomm (Apple’s longtime partner in iPhone modems and seemingly-neverending lawsuits) in the next year just hit a snag, according to a noted Apple analyst today.
“My latest survey indicates that Apple's own iPhone 5G modem chip development may have failed,” Ming-Chi Kuo. “So Qualcomm will remain exclusive supplier for 5G chips of 2H23 new iPhones, with a 100% supply share (vs. company's previous estimate of 20%).”
So the iPhone 14 release date, likely in September 2022, and the iPhone 15 the following year (one can guess in September 2024) should continue to exclusively carry a Qualcomm 5G modem. This is instead of the partnership being phased out with an 80% reduction in Qualcomm modem usage in (theoretical) the iPhone 15.
Good news for Qualcomm – and maybe you too
The news is undoubtedly good news for Qualcomm, which is the dominant 5G modem supplier for iPhone and Android smartphones.
Due to the sheer number of iPhones that get sold every year, supplying any parts that Apple doesn’t make itself is big business. And, by the same token, when Apple takes iPhone components in-house, it can tank an entire company that once relied on these iPhone orders to proposer – just ask Imagination Technologies in 2017 when Apple decided to make its own iPhone GPUs (although they recently inked a separate licensing deal in 2020 – so there’s a semi-happy ending there).
Qualcomm’s 5G modem expertise is a force, too. The proverbial tech graveyard is filled with companies that tried to compete with the San Diego-based semiconductor giant in the past. Intel, for example, supplied a portion of modems to the iPhone 8 and iPhone X in 2017, and all of the iPhone XS (2018) and iPhone 11 (2019) series’ only to be met with slower speeds compared to Qualcomm’s modems.
You know your tech isn’t nearly as good when people are scrambling to see if their version of the iPhone X has the faster Qualcomm modem vs the Intel modem inside. Unlike the 90s, ‘Intel Inside’ wasn’t an endearing slogan anyone wanted to hear.
When the Qualcomm and Apple years-long lawsuits came to an end, both parties went back to work to supply the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 series with Qualcomm 5G modems with great results. But Apple acquired Intel’s modem business in a long play to ditch Qualcomm once and for all some time in the future.
And, as Kuo notes, he still thinks that will happen one day, but it won’t be in 2023.
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