While it will be some time before 5G LTE becomes standard, Apple is thinking ahead about how to best incorporate 5G technology into its iPhones. According to a Fast Company report, Apple has been working with Intel to incorporate the chipmaker’s 5G modems in future iPhones while talks with Qualcomm, the world’s biggest modem supplier, have been “limited.”
Qualcomm currently has a more advanced 5G modem than Intel does, but Intel reportedly has “multiple thousands” of employees working on improving its 5G chip. Intel first announced its 5G modem at CES 2017 and announced recently that it completed a “full end-to-end 5G call based on its early 5G silicon.” While Qualcomm’s 5G modem has more specialized carrier features, reports suggest that those features won’t be “widely adopted” by all carriers. Also, Qualcomm’s chips are particularly equipped to support CDMA networks but those may become obsolete over time as 5G infiltrates the industry.
An iPhone with a 5G modem would theoretically be capable of connection speeds of one gigabit per second or more, but the industry’s transition to support 5G will take some time. The report suggests that Intel could supply a 5G modem for an iPhone debuting in 2019 or 2020.
Apple started using Intel chips in iPhones with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus and is using a combination of Qualcomm and Intel chips in the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus that debuted in September. Signs point to Apple moving away from Qualcomm chips entirely, removing them from iPhones and iPads and relying on Intel chips and possibly those made by MediaTek.
Apple and Qualcomm have been feuding since the beginning of the year, after Qualcomm began charging billions in royalty fees for technologies that Apple thinks the company “has nothing to do with.” Apple stopped paying Qualcomm’s fees, which resulted in Qualcomm filing several lawsuits against the iPhone maker and reportedly withholding software needed to test its chips on Apple devices.
It’s clear that Apple wants to lessen its Qualcomm dependence, but it would likely be to Qualcomm’s benefit to patch things up with Apple. Broadcom recently placed an unsolicited bid to buy Qualcomm for $105 billion, which Qualcomm promptly rejected. The chipmaker believes the offer undervalued the company, and it would rather continue on its own. “We are confident in our ability to create significant additional value for our stockholders as we continue our growth in these attractive segments and lead the transition to 5G,” Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf wrote in a statement.
Qualcomm could bolster its position (and force a higher offer from Broadcom) by resolving its issues with Apple and completing the acquisition of NXP Semiconductor. Qualcomm’s $39 billion deal to buy the chipmaker was slated to wrap up by the end of 2017 but could extend into 2018.
Ars has reached out to Apple for more information and will update the article if we receive a reply.