According to a report from DigiTimes, Apple could soon ship the iPhone with its own 5G modems by 2023. Which means Qualcomm will cease to be the only supplier of modems for the iPhone.
That’s not all. Apple will not integrate the 5G chip into its A-series SoC, which it will use in its 2023 iPhones. Conventionally, the latest 5G phones have modems integrated into the SoC. It is cheaper and more energy efficient to have a modem, CPU, GPU, memory and other I / O buses engraved on a single silicone matrix. Apple, however, has always used standalone modems in its iPhones and they have never been integrated with A-series chips.
The emerging nature of 5G means that standards and specifications evolve over time. The supported 5G bands themselves may vary from country to country. Separating the 5G modem from the SoC should allow Apple to update the modem without an expensive and time-consuming redesign of the SoC.
Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC has so far shipped all of Apple’s custom SoCs. It is fair to assume that it could also produce 5G modem chips for Apple.
Qualcomm, at its investor event, said it expects to ship only 20% of Apple’s modems in 2023. This could very likely mean that Apple will design 80% of its modems, leaving Qualcomm to ship modems for its seniors iPhone devices.
This move is not surprising given that back in 2019, Apple decided to reach an expensive settlement with Qualcomm after a patent dispute over 5G. This also led to Intel’s exit from the 5G modem business.
What’s even more interesting is that Apple arrested Intel’s leading 5G modem engineer, Umashankar Thyagarayana, earlier that year. It was noted that he played an important role in the development of Intel’s modem and that he was the senior director of Intel’s 5G project engineering. It would not be unreasonable to speculate that he could have played a similar role in Apple, which he possibly used to separate himself from Qualcomm. In addition, Apple bought Intel’s modem business in mid-2019, which it used to upgrade its own 5G modem.
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