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

iphone-xs-vs-xr.jpg

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.

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

macduke

macrumors G4
Jun 27, 2007
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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.
 
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iBluetooth

macrumors 6502
Mar 29, 2016
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This will allow Apple to sell their CPU's to other manufacturers in the future as Qualcomm's monopoly on cellular chips was stopping smaller manufacturers from buying other solutions as Qualcomm chips, because they were forced to as they needed the cellular chip from Qualcomm.
 
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iBluetooth

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Mar 29, 2016
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This is probably in response to the ****** performance of the intel modems, and the fact that Qualcomm is trying to become a monopoly.
Qualcomm has been a monopoly for many years in cellular chips and only Intel recently entering it.
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And they’ll still have to pay Qualcomm for use of SEP patents in their modems.
They will never get away from that.
Apple is fighting to pay for the SEP patents, but not a percentage of the TOTAL SALES PRICE of the device (even if there are no Qualcomm chips inside).
 
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rjohnstone

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Dec 28, 2007
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This will allow Apple to sell their CPU's to other manufacturers in the future as Qualcomm's monopoly on cellular chips was stopping smaller manufacturers from buying other solutions as Qualcomm chips, because they were forced to as they needed the cellular chip from Qualcomm.
No one is required to buy a Qualcomm chip. They can buy them from other vendors like Intel. They will always be required to pay a fee to Qualcomm for the SEP licenses. Doesn’t matter who builds the chip.
 
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iBluetooth

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Mar 29, 2016
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No one is required to buy a Qualcomm chip. They can buy them from other vendors like Intel. They will always be required to pay a fee to Qualcomm for the SEP licenses. Doesn’t matter who builds the chip.
The fees and cost will be substantially higher if they don't use their cellular chips, so they are not officially required, but economically impractical.
 
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killr_b

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Oct 21, 2005
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I just assumed they moved all the antenna guys to design an Apple modem when they announced they were discontinuing the Airport stuff. I wonder how the fees thing will work out for them...
 
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johnpurlia

macrumors newbie
Mar 5, 2011
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Good luck with that... Cellular modem chips are black magic. Getting one to work is not that difficult. Getting one to work pretty well is a challenge. Getting one to work reliably is very, very difficult.
 
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thadoggfather

macrumors G5
Oct 1, 2007
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Intel needs to stick to making CPUs.

Not even sure about that. The stagnation of CPU improvements relative to what it used to be, breakthrough, defies and rejects Moore's Law. So much so, it has allowed AMD to rise from the grave with their Ryzen CPU's people seem to be big fans of.
 
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Cosmosent

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Apr 20, 2016
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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 !
 
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StevieD100

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Jan 18, 2014
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This will allow Apple to sell their CPU's to other manufacturers in the future as Qualcomm's monopoly on cellular chips was stopping smaller manufacturers from buying other solutions as Qualcomm chips, because they were forced to as they needed the cellular chip from Qualcomm.
It is a nice idea BUT...
If Apple does this, they might as well build a courthouse in East Texas solely for the innumerable court cases of Patent Infringement that will be slapped on Apple from the huge numbers of 3G,4G and 5G patent holders. They number in the thousands which makes it almost impossible for Apple to license them all.
This is a sad fact of life when it comes to Apple technology these days. Apple is there to be shot at by all and sundry.
If QC can have a patent for resizing an image then who knows what others will have in their back pockets eh?
 
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Rigby

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Aug 5, 2008
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San Jose, CA
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 !
It is a challenge, but it may not be completely infeasible. Others are doing the same thing, although probably not all will succeed in the end. Samsung is developing its Exynos 5100. Huawei has a 5G modem, so does Mediatek. It is true though that making a cellular modem cost effective and reliable with good performance is very difficult. It took Intel years (and they had a head start from their Infineon acquisition).
 
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ipedro

macrumors 603
Nov 30, 2004
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Toronto, ON
This could end up being an important leap ahead for all of Apple’s products. A 5G modem wouldn’t just be used in the iPhone. You’ll see it in Apple Watch, iPad, and yes, even the Mac.

Where it’ll make the biggest impact will be on the future of wearables. 5G on Apple Watch will probably become standard but so will Apple’s augmented reality glasses. Customized connectivity has become so critical to these devices that Apple can’t rely on others to produce this component.
 
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Glideslope

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Dec 7, 2007
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a quiet place in NY.
Good luck with that... Cellular modem chips are black magic. Getting one to work is not that difficult. Getting one to work pretty well is a challenge. Getting one to work reliably is very, very difficult.

I'd say the Architecture Design Team led by Mr. Srouji has demonstrated it's ability to wield the "Black Wand of Magic" on a regular basis. ;)
 
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ravenstar

macrumors regular
Jan 12, 2005
247
453
I'm thinking Apple's looking at the long game. Maybe they will have some of their own modems for 5G, but whether or not they do, they want to be a strong player in defining 6G and weakening Qualcomm's hold on the standards.
 
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chabig

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Sep 6, 2002
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They will always be required to pay a fee to Qualcomm for the SEP licenses. Doesn’t matter who builds the chip.
I don't believe patent law works like that. Intel pays Qualcomm license fees to build modems. Once they've done that, Qualcomm's patent claims are "exhausted". Intel customers don't pay Qualcomm additional money.
 
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