Apple’s Own 5G Modem Could Debut in 2023 iPhones

BY Anu Joy

Published 18 Nov 2021

According to a report by DigiTimes, Apple could soon ship iPhones with its own 5G modems by 2023. Which means that Qualcomm will cease to be the sole supplier of modems for iPhones.

That’s not all. Apple will not be integrating the 5G chip into its A-Series SoC that it will be using in its 2023 iPhones. Conventionally, the latest 5G phones have the modems integrated into the SoC. It’s cheaper and more power efficient to have the modem, CPU, GPU, memory, and other I/O buses etched onto a single silicon die. Apple, however, has always used standalone modems in its iPhones and they have never been integrated with the A-series chips.

The nascent nature of 5G means that the standards and specifications keep evolving over time. The supported 5G bands themselves can vary from one country to another. Separating the 5G modem from the SoC should allow Apple to update the modem without requiring expensive and time-consuming SoC redesign.

Taiwanese chip-manufacturer TSMC has been supplying all of Apple’s custom SoCs so far. It is fair to assume that it could also fabricate the 5G modem chips for Apple.

Qualcomm, in its investor day event, said that it expects to supply only 20% of Apple’s modems in 2023. This could very likely mean that Apple would design 80% of its own modems, leaving Qualcomm to supply modems for its older iPhones.

This move isn’t surprising considering how, back in 2019, Apple chose to reach an expensive settlement with Qualcomm following a patent spat over 5G. This also led to Intel’s exit from the 5G modem business.

What’s even more interesting is that Apple poached Intel’s lead 5G modem engineer, Umashankar Thyagarajan earlier that year. He is noted to have played an important role in developing Intel’s modem and served as the Senior Director of Intel’s 5G project engineering arm. It would not be unreasonable to speculate that he could have played a similar role at Apple, which it has possibly used to break away from Qualcomm. Furthermore, Apple acquired Intel’s modem business mid-2019, which it used to advance its own 5G modem venture.

[Via DigiTimes]