Apple Might Be Making Its Own iPhone Modem to Ditch Qualcomm for Good

Apple Might Be Making Its Own iPhone Modem to Ditch Qualcomm for Good
iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max (Photo: Caitlin McGarry)

Apple is planting new flowers in its walled garden. And by that, I mean the company is reportedly designing more in-house chips to reduce the reliance on third-party chipmakers like Qualcomm.

The Cupertino tech giant’s M-series processors have been all the rage in the computing world since debuting in the MacBook Air last year. But while Apple took the heart of its laptops and tablets away from Intel, some of the other organs are still produced by other companies. And as we know, Apple doesn’t like to rely on non-Apple things.

Noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said earlier this year that the Tim Cook-led firm would develop its own 5G modem, the chip that connects you to a cellular network, and replace the current Qualcomm one from the iPad and iPhone. Kuo seemed uncertain of a timeline but said the swap would happen in 2023 “at the earliest.”

A new report from Nikkei Asia weighs in, claiming Apple is nearing a deal with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) to release a 5G iPhone modem in 2023. Citing unnamed sources, the report says Apple is using a 4-nanometre die to build a 5G modem with millimetre wave technology and its own power management chip to make sure it all runs smoothly.

Apple and Qualcomm’s splintered relationship is well-documented. The two tech giants have been locked in a long-running feud that intensified when Apple took the chipmaker to court for “double-dipping” by charging “unreasonable” royalties for its modem chips on top of licensing fees. The two companies eventually settled all ongoing lawsuits and agreed to a six-year licensing agreement.

This was no happy reunion. Apple’s plans to build its own modems are no secret after the company showed its hand by purchasing Intel’s smartphone modem business for $US1 (A$1.39) billion just months after settling the modem dispute with Qualcomm. Apple is expected to use Qualcomm chips in its forthcoming iPhones before swiftly phasing them out. Qualcomm, which supplies the modems (among other chips) for the majority of smartphones, said it expects to account for only 20% of iPhone modem orders in two years from now.

By using its own modems, Apple can keep a closer eye on the quality and supply of its chips. Keeping things in-house should also allow for better integration across Apple’s product range to enable faster speeds and lower latency. I’m dreaming of a future where MacBooks come standard with 5G cellular connectivity.

Apple embarrassed Intel with its latest M-series processors and now has another chance to prove that it handle things on its own — so long as it can navigate more potential legal battles.