Apple aims to deploy its own 5G modem in iPhones by 2022

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Qualcomm may have just hinted that 5G iPhones are coming in 2020
Source says that this is an extremely aggressive timeline.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Apple reportedly plans to deploy its own 5G modems in iPhones by 2022. This “very aggressive” timeline will require Apple to carry out development, testing and certification.

Until then, Apple will use 5G modems developed by Qualcomm. After years of legal battling, the two companies put aside their differences earlier this year. Apple will likely ship its first 5G iPhone next year.

Fifth-generation cellular networking tech, currently rolling out in some U.S. cities and various countries around the world, promises faster speeds, better throughput and lower latency. Aside from blazing-fast downloads and streaming, 5G modems will boost things like virtual reality, autonomous cars and the so-called Internet of Things.

The report from Fast Company describes Apple’s relationship with modem-maker Qualcomm as “uneasy.” That’s no great shocker considering that the pair were locked in an escalating legal battle for two years. But it does explain why Apple wants to seize control of its 5G technology as soon as possible.

To kick-start this work, Apple acquired Intel’s 5G modem business earlier this year for an estimated $1 billion. Intel said it would get out of 5G modems after Apple and Qualcomm patched things up. Intel saw no viable route to profitability without Apple’s business.

5G modems: Apple’s got a big challenge ahead of it

But even with Intel’s 5G modem business under its belt, Apple faces a tough time. Fast Company writer Mark Sullivan notes that:

“[B]ringing a new modem to the finish line in two years is really pushing it, my source said…. Apple will have to put the modem through network optimization testing to make sure it plays nice with the carriers’ wireless networks. The modem must be tested to ensure compliance with global standards, and undergo another battery of tests to satisfy FCC requirements.

Apple has never produced a modem of its own before, so some of the people involved with the initiative may not fully understand how long it takes, said my source, who believes 2023 may be a more realistic completion date.”

To hit the 2022 deadline, Apple may make its first 5G modem a stand-alone chip. It would then work to integrate it into a system-on-chip (SoC) in 2023.

The person reportedly leading Apple’s development of the next-gen modem is a “rock star RF engineer” named Esin Terzioglu. Terzioglu joined Apple in 2017. Somewhat ironically, Terzioglu came from Qualcomm, where he served as VP of engineering. Now his work could help Apple part ways with his former employer.