Apple could use in-house 5G modems in some of its products as soon as 2021

Following yesterday’s announcement that Apple is purchasing Intel’s 5G smartphone modem patents and other assets in a deal valued at $1 billion, Reuters today reported that first Apple devices with an in-house cellular modem could ship as soon as 2021.

Reuters has the story:

A person familiar with the matter said Apple plans to use Qualcomm’s modem technology for a 5G iPhone in 2020 but wants to have an internally developed 5G modem ready for use in some of its products by 2021. Intel previously disclosed plans to have a 5G modem ready by 2020, so tapping the Intel assets could help Apple hit its target.

The new iPhones coming down the pike in September definitely won’t feature 5G capability.

According to reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of TF International Securities, iPhones that will start shipping in 2020 will incorporate cellular modems dual-sourced from Samsung and Qualcomm, and are expected to have some 5G capability.

But any replacement of Qualcomm is likely to happen in phases, this person said, as Apple builds up its ability to ensure that its modems work on all the networks and countries where Apple sells phones. Ensuring worldwide compatibility is Qualcomm’s historical strength, and Apple might still have to rely on Qualcomm for some modems during a transition period to its own devices.

The Apple-Intel deal, expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year, includes the 2,200 Intel employees who worked on cellular modems for smartphones, a bunch of patents and other intellectual property, equipment and leases. Combined with its existing portfolio, Apple will have 17,000 wireless technology patents, ranging from cellular communication standards to modems, when the deal closes. The deal will permit Intel to continue working on modems for the devices like PCs, industrial equipment and self-driving cars.

In April 2019, Intel stunned the industry by announcing its exit from the 5G smartphone modem business. The announcement came shortly after Apple and Qualcomm settled all litigation, with the iPhone maker entering into a six-year licensing deal with the chip maker.

Reuters writes:

Apple’s license deal with Qualcomm lasts six years and its accompanying chip supply agreement could also last that long, said one chip industry veteran who requested anonymity to discuss confidential matters. Apple is likely to continue to use the San Diego firm’s chips in its flagship models even if it phases in its own silicon for lower-end and older models, this person said.

Now that the firm is buying out Intel’s 5G smartphone patent and other assets, it’s reasonable to assume it’ll leverage acquired talent to accelerate its own 5G modem development.