Future iPhones Could Have Apple-Designed Cellular Modems, But Possibly Not Until 2021

Apple is actively building its own cellular modem chip for future iPhones, according to a paywalled report by The Information today.

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The report, citing a person briefed on the plans, claims that Apple has engineers working on the project close to its headquarters in Northern California. For several months, Apple has also been actively hiring engineers in San Diego, where the company has an office with a growing Wireless Architecture team.

Due to the complexity of wireless modems, it could take Apple as long as three years to ship iPhones with them, according to analysts cited in the report. Apple is already rumored to debut its first 5G-enabled iPhone in 2020, with an Intel modem, so the first iPhone with an Apple-designed modem could launch in 2021.

The move would align with Apple's increasing shift towards in-house chip designs, including its best-in-class A-series processors in iPhones, S-series processors in Apple Watches, W-series wireless chips in AirPods and select Beats headphones, and T-series coprocessors in some of the latest Macs.

The shift wouldn't be all that surprising, as Apple is currently in a high-profile legal battle with its former modem supplier Qualcomm over chip-related licensing fees. Intel has since become the exclusive supplier of modems in the latest iPhones.

Qualcomm is based in San Diego, turning the city into a hotbed for wireless engineers, explaining Apple's presence there. One of the executives leading Apple's cellular modem effort is Bernd Adler, who joined the company in 2015 after serving as an executive on Intel's modem team, according to the report.

Top Rated Comments

dannyyankou Avatar
26 months ago
Their in-house chips are very good, so this could be a good thing.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Enclavean Avatar
26 months ago
If its anything like their other chips I welcome it
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
macduke Avatar
26 months ago
This will be a welcome change as their A-series is amazing, but I wonder how they will get around the hundreds of patents needed for these technologies? I doubt their legal woes will fade just because they start making their own cellular chips. A nice upside is this could lead to optimizations and better battery life for modems in devices like Apple Watch and that could lead to further advancements and battery life improvements for iPhone.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
rjohnstone Avatar
26 months ago
And they’ll still have to pay Qualcomm for use of SEP patents in their modems.
They will never get away from that.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
chabig Avatar
26 months ago

they have NO chance of developing & incorporating cell technology in the next 5+ years ! ... NO chance @ all ! ... simply too late to the game, & it's an EXTREMELY complex game to participate in !

"We've learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They're not going to just walk in." - Ed Colligan, Palm CEO, 2006

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance," - Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, 2007
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Cosmosent Avatar
26 months ago
If AAPL had started 5+ years ago with 300+ Woz-level engineers, then maybe ... otherwise, it's a total joke, & the ONLY ones promoted this as even a possibility are the NONE engineers.

I'm an EE, I grew up in Silicon Valley, & prior to transitioning into iOS App Development four years ago, I've worked @ Qualcomm here in San Diego where I've lived the past 10+ years ... while AAPL has done a fantastic job with their A-series mobile processors, & it is what differentiates them, engineering-wise, from the other smartphones, they have NO chance of developing & incorporating cell technology in the next 5+ years ! ... NO chance @ all ! ... simply too late to the game, & it's an EXTREMELY complex game to participate in !
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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