Apple Considered Purchasing Intel's Smartphone Modem Chip Business

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Apple had discussions with Intel about potentially acquiring parts of Intel's smartphone modem chip business, reports The Wall Street Journal. Apple was interested in Intel's technology to speed up its own efforts to build modem chips for smartphones.

Intel and Apple entered into discussions last summer and the talks continued for months, but ended right around the time Apple settled its legal dispute and reached a supply agreement with Qualcomm.


Sources at Intel that spoke to The Wall Street Journal said that Intel is exploring "strategic alternatives" for its smartphone modem chip business, and is still interested in a sale to Apple or another company.

In an interview yesterday, Intel CEO Bob Swan confirmed that Intel is considering alternatives "based on what's best" for Intel's IP and employees.
Selling the modem business would allow Intel to unload a costly operation that was losing about $1 billion annually, according to another person familiar with its performance. Any sale would likely include staff, a portfolio of patents and modem designs related to multiple generations of wireless technology, said Patrick Moorhead, principal at Moor Insights & Strategy, a technology firm.
Intel announced earlier this month that it was exiting the 5G smartphone business, just hours after Apple and Qualcomm announced a resolution to their legal troubles and a new supply deal.

Apple had been planning to use Intel's 5G chips in its 2020 iPhones, but rumors suggested Intel was having trouble meeting design deadlines and that the relationship between Apple and Intel was souring. Just yesterday, Swan also confirmed that Apple's deal with Qualcomm was the reason why Intel decided to stop making 5G chips.

Apple is now planning to use Qualcomm's 5G modem chips in its 2020 5G iPhones. Intel has said that it is going to continue to supply 4G LTE chips to meet already established orders, which means that Apple's 2019 iPhone lineup will likely continue to use Intel chips rather than Qualcomm chips. It is too late in the design cycle for Apple to swap chips for this year's upcoming devices.

Article Link: Apple Considered Purchasing Intel's Smartphone Modem Chip Business
 

AngerDanger

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Selling the modem business would allow Intel to unload a costly operation that was losing about $1 billion annually, according to another person familiar with its performance. Any sale would likely include staff, a portfolio of patents and modem designs related to multiple generations of wireless technology, said Patrick Moorhead, principal at Moor Insights & Strategy, a technology firm.
Selling the modem business would also prevent one other thing from ever happening:

 
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NickName99

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Interesting! I wonder if this means Apple has given up on making their own modems? I mean, that would maybe be sensible, but kind of boring/disappointing too.
 
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69Mustang

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In between a rock and a hard place
Interesting! I wonder if this means Apple has given up on making their own modems? I mean, that would maybe be sensible, but kind of boring/disappointing too.
I wouldn't think so. I think it means Apple didn't value Intel's modem chip business. If the rumor was true, the op was losing a billion a year. That's a pretty hefty debt load just to get some patents and IP of dubious value. I think Apple thought/thinks they could develop their own without Intel's "expertise"... which was suspect.
 

coolfactor

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Interesting! I wonder if this means Apple has given up on making their own modems? I mean, that would maybe be sensible, but kind of boring/disappointing too.
Far from likely. We don't know the details of their agreement, but I bet they would have insisted on *not* having a non-compete agreement in place with Qualcomm. Buy their chips for now, with no minimum required, meanwhile working on their own modem chipset. We know they want to control this.

I'm just baffled by how complicated this is. Apple is rolling out industry leading A-series chips and other chips (M-series, T-series), but can't manage to get a 5G modem chip ready. I wonder if Qualcomm just holds too many critical patents that is holding this back? Such worldwide tech should not be allowed to be held hostage by a single company, if that is indeed the case.

Sounds to me like 5G is just exceeding the capabilities of our current chip fabrication technology, at least at the miniature scale needed for phones. A new chip design is needed. Let's hope that Apple is exploring new technologies to conquer this.
 

CWallace

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Interesting! I wonder if this means Apple has given up on making their own modems?
This acquisition would be designed to allow Apple to develop it's own modems quicker by leveraging Intel's previous work (and staff).


Qualcom’s paten trolls.... I mean lawyers would probably go through every single transistor to make sure it’s patents wouldn’t be infringed upon...
Apple and Intel both have licensed all of Qualcomm's patents so there would be no infringement.
 

Hazmat401

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This acquisition would be designed to allow Apple to develop it's own modems quicker by leveraging Intel's previous work (and staff).




Apple and Intel both have licensed all of Qualcomm's patents so there would be no infringement.
But what’s the point in investing in all that just to still pay hefty licensing fees in the end .... go all they and develop a superior chip
 

Captainscarlet22

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A guess here...If Apple buys them, it's possible that 5G is not the concern but 6G or something similar to push carriers into....
 

JPack

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I'm just baffled by how complicated this is. Apple is rolling out industry leading A-series chips and other chips (M-series, T-series), but can't manage to get a 5G modem chip ready. I wonder if Qualcomm just holds too many critical patents that is holding this back? Such worldwide tech should not be allowed to be held hostage by a single company, if that is indeed the case.

Sounds to me like 5G is just exceeding the capabilities of our current chip fabrication technology, at least at the miniature scale needed for phones. A new chip design is needed. Let's hope that Apple is exploring new technologies to conquer this.
Leading edge ARM designs like Cortex-A76 can be licensed from ARM. It's how the business is run. But nobody is selling modem designs. Everyone in the industry is doing their own implementation. So it's no surprise Apple can produce great ARM products but struggle with modems.

Current fab technology is working just fine for 5G modems. Qualcomm is using 10nm while Huawei is on 7nm. It's Intel that's far behind.
 

Relentless Power

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It’s bad for the industry if there is only one supplier.
Very much this. As much as one supplier wants to control the entire market, that makes for more constraint, driving prices higher. There needs to be multiple suppliers in the long run creating diversity.
 
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name99

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Interesting! I wonder if this means Apple has given up on making their own modems? I mean, that would maybe be sensible, but kind of boring/disappointing too.
Of course not! This is just part of the fan dance between Apple, Intel and various other relevant parties.
Obviously Apple wants to acquire Intel modem know-how at the cheapest possible rate. Obviously Intel wants to sell it at the highest rate. Each tries to send signals to its advantage. So Intel tries to imply vaguely that it might find other ways to use the IP by partnering/selling to some vague other company. And Apple tries to imply that it doesn't really want modems, at least not enough to pay Intel's current price, but hey, at half the price maybe they'd be interested.

Normally these negotiations would be quietly in the background, but the trial busted everything open and so everyone's scrambling to make the most of a public spotlight that none of them would have chosen.
 
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realtuner

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I’m seeing a 26ms ping on my LTE on my 2017 iPhone X. I just ran Speedtest from inside the office building I work in.

Seems fine, pretty darn low latency really.
Just tested my XS Max (inside our large steel framed warehouse) and got 22ms ping, 45Mbps download and 26 Mbps upload.

I also looked at my history over the years (nice that the Speedtest App keeps a record of all your tests).

On 3G iPhones I had results from 1.5-4.5Mbps.
On 4G iPhones I had results from 5-20Mbps for my earlier devices (5S and 6).
On my XS Max I get between 40-80Mbps consistently.

The difference from 3G to 4G was significant. The difference from 4G to 5G might look good on paper, but will have practically no impact whatsoever on people using their devices. Getting over 40Mbps is plenty fast for any tasks I could reasonably do on a mobile device. It's also plenty fast enough to use as a mobile hotspot for my MBP - I never see slow downs or delays while browsing the Internet or editing documents stored online. It's not like I'll ever need to download multi-GB files when I'm mobile.

5G is just a check mark on a feature list that companies will try to make seem far more important than it really is so they have an excuse to sell people shiny new devices.
 

dannyyankou

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Thank god they didn’t
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What is so special about 5G? Sure its faster but LTE is already fast so why is everyone obsessed about 5G? Also, it will take years before the coverage is present so surely there is no rush :)
The original iMac shipped with 4gb of storage. Needs change over time. Sure 5G might not be “necessary” now, but who knows what our needs will be 5 years from now. Maybe I’ll want to watch live tv in 4K on my tablet. Sure it’s not possible today, but you never know about the future.
 

name99

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Leading edge ARM designs like Cortex-A76 can be licensed from ARM. It's how the business is run. But nobody is selling modem designs. Everyone in the industry is doing their own implementation. So it's no surprise Apple can produce great ARM products but struggle with modems.

Current fab technology is working just fine for 5G modems. Qualcomm is using 10nm while Huawei is on 7nm. It's Intel that's far behind.
Jesus, dude. You think Apple cores derive from the A76???

Look, it's much simpler than that. Apple is big, but even big has its limits.
Apple has, over just a few years, built up expertise in CPUs, then GPUs, then NPUs. They're not just designing one "CPU" per year now, but at least three (big core, small core [also use in Apple Watch] and tiny core [used as the controller for things like the NPU and GPU]). They're working on radio chips (bluetooth and wifi, in the W3 and H1). They're working on flash controllers (used in both iOS devices and the newest Macs). They're probably working on ARM macs (which means a whole lot of additional silicon like PCIe 4 and USB 3.whatever-it's-called-these-days).

That's a LOT of projects for a division that was so much smaller just ten years ago. And you can only grow so fast if it'd important that you maintain quality, you can't just hire every rando on the streets.

We know that a modem team exists. We even know the names of some of the execs involved (which include some people from Intel and QC). But things take time.
Apple has climbed the first rung of the ladder with BT/WiFi chips (ie they clearly know the basics of how to create a functional radio chip). The next step is likely (IMHO) a cellular chip for the Apple Watch (which doesn't need 5G, and can probably get away with a rather limited subset of 4G functionality, like no MIMO). After that, maybe cellular chip for the iPad (again no 5G, but implementing more of the 4G higher end features). Then maybe a cellular chip that offers basic 5G but, most importantly, is only for say the US market (so they don't need to worry about the full range of options around the entire world).
Even if they keep up this pace with a new chip every 6 months, that's still maybe Sept for the watch, April for the iPad, and Sept 2020 for a US-only barely 5G phone.
[doublepost=1556309942][/doublepost]
Qualcom’s paten trolls.... I mean lawyers would probably go through every single transistor to make sure it’s patents wouldn’t be infringed upon.... probably a good move to just let that be for the moment
Actually, no. That was THE significant aspect of the recent settlement, that Apple gets rights to QC IP for at least the next six years.
That's why I score the whole thing as a win for Apple. They pay QC a little more than they were paying (not MUCH more, from about $7.5/phone to $9/phone) but in return they get something priceless, the freedom to build their own modem without QC hassling them in court for the next twenty years.
 

JPack

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I’m seeing a 26ms ping on my LTE on my 2017 iPhone X. I just ran Speedtest from inside the office building I work in.

Seems fine, pretty darn low latency really.
Consider that a 50 ms round trip latency means car traveling at 70 mph will move 5 ft even before any decisions can be made.

26 ms is good for humans but about 10x too slow for AI.
 

name99

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What is so special about 5G? Sure its faster but LTE is already fast so why is everyone obsessed about 5G? Also, it will take years before the coverage is present so surely there is no rush :)
What answer do you want? QC's answer is that it is the second coming of christ, the greatest tech advance in human history --- and it can all be yours right now as long as you give them lots of your money.

How about more rational analysis?
- for "normal" phone usage, 5G gives more AGGREGATE bandwidth/tower. This is not important insofar as your indivdiual phone goes faster. What it means is that even as your phone uses more data year after year, and more phones join the system year after year, things don't get slower. No-one (with a brain, so, yes, this excluded 90% of the internet) cares that a SINGLE phone can run at a kabillion bits/sec; what matters is that the cell tower can put a kabillion bits/sec to service all those phones simultaneously connected to it.

- for IoT usage, 5G introduces a new set of much more efficient protocols that allow all sorts of things (security equipment, metering equipment, weather equipment, health equipment, ...) to communicate with the cellular network more efficiently. This is important, useful, and will be of widespread general benefit. But it's also only relevant to the IoT makers and the telcos, it doesn't affect your phone.

- for dense populations (like stadia, conventions, airports, ...) 5GNR (aka mmWave) allows for much higher bandwidth in these localized areas. This is useful if you've ever been upset at how slow your phone is in such environments.
Note, however, that WiFi has its own plan to achieve the same sort of performance boosts in these environments...
So, yes, we understand why QC and VZW want you to believe that 5GNR is ESSENTIAL to your connected future, but it's far from clear that this is actually true; it's possible that WiFi's stake in this area (called WiGig/802.11ad) will get there first and provide a better solution to this particular problem; I've not seen a good analysis either way.
 

twolf2919

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I'm just baffled by how complicated this is. Apple is rolling out industry leading A-series chips and other chips (M-series, T-series), but can't manage to get a 5G modem chip ready. I wonder if Qualcomm just holds too many critical patents that is holding this back? Such worldwide tech should not be allowed to be held hostage by a single company, if that is indeed the case.
It took QC a couple decades to get to the point where they can develop 5G chips. Why are you baffled Apple can't get a 5G modem chip ready in a couple years? Designing modems isn't just adding a few more transistors on a CPU chip!
Sounds to me like 5G is just exceeding the capabilities of our current chip fabrication technology, at least at the miniature scale needed for phones. A new chip design is needed. Let's hope that Apple is exploring new technologies to conquer this.
This makes no sense. QC, Samsung, Huawei, and a couple other companies already have 5G chips - so they're obviously getting fabricated.
 
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