Apple’s custom-built smartphone modems likely won’t make their way into iPhones and iPads until 2025 at the earliest, according to a new report from The Information.
Intel’s strained relationship with Apple is on full display in the beefy report that reveals Apple had problems with Intel long before 5G modems became an issue. Back in early 2017, Intel struggled to supply Apple with an LTE modem destined for the 2018 iPhone lineup. Despite overhauling the modem four times, Intel nearly missed the deadline.
“This would have never happened at Apple under my watch,” said Apple chip boss Johny Srouji during a meeting at Apple campus with his Intel counterpart Venkata “Murthy” Renduchintala. The Information says the issues with Intel eventually spurred Apple to reach a settlement with Qualcomm after fighting a legal war against the company for years.
Intel became the sole supplier of LTE modems on the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR. However, the company’s chips didn’t instill confidence. In 2016, Apple bought chips from both Intel and Qualcomm, but the company had to limit LTE speeds on the Qualcomm modems so that they wouldn’t be remarkably faster than Intel’s slower modems.
Apple wasn’t expected to add 5G modems to the iPhone until 2020, but it sounds like the company was very uncertain that Intel could deliver on time. Having to wait until fall of 2021 to deliver the next-generation data speeds could have been a disaster for iPhone sales, so Apple did the unthinkable and signed a multi-year agreement to use Qualcomm’s chips.
The company reportedly is still pursuing its own modem technology, but people who have been interviewed to join the team say Apple doesn’t expect to be ready to enter the market until 2025 at the earliest. By that time, the market might already be moving onto 6G.
Shortly after Apple and Qualcomm announced their settlement, Intel told investors that it is getting out of the smartphone modem business. Apple was reportedly looking into buying Intel’s modem division but decided not to. Instead, Intel will have to find another buyer and it says there are a lot of companies looking to scoop up the division.
“We have world-class 5G modem technology that very few companies have the IP and expertise to deliver,” Intel’s spokesperson told The Information. “That’s why many companies have expressed interest in acquiring our cellular modem assets since our recent announcement that we are assessing our options to realize the value we have created.”