5G

Even if the launch of Apple’s first 5G iPhone is months away, it’s obviously getting plenty of attention well in advance.

Now, another piece of the puzzle may have just fallen into place. According to a report from Fast Company, Apple is apparently unhappy with the QTM 525 millimeter-wave antenna module produced by Qualcomm. The one that would be inserted into the iPhone 12 later this year. But apparently it doesn’t fit with the form factor that Apple is developing for the future handset, and, as a result, Apple has been forced to make a change.

Specifically, the report indicates that Apple is going to develop its own custom 5G antenna for the iPhones set to launch before the end of 2020. Qualcomm will still be tapped to provide the 5G modem itself, the Snapdragon X55 — but Apple will handle developing the antenna.

However, plans can change, and the report indicates that Apple could fall back on the plan to use Qualcomm’s antenna after all, depending on timing.

However, Apple typically designs on several tracks, and it’s concurrently working on another design that uses both the Qualcomm modem and antenna. It could default to this option later this year, our source said. But that would require Apple to settle for a slightly thicker iPhone than it wants. Qualcomm has said that its QTM 525 antenna module will “support 5G smartphone designs sleeker than 8 millimeters thick.”

But, as noted in the report, Apple’s plan to develop its own antenna has some issues. First, Apple itself doesn’t have a great track record with developing its own antenna. Remember the iPhone 4? When Apple was telling folks they were holding their phone wrong? That was a custom Apple antenna.

The difficulty of designing 5G antennas is also a potential speed bump:

The antennas required for millimeter-wave (mmwave) 5G devices are harder to design than other kinds of antennas. Because these antennas send and receive higher frequency signals than earlier generations, our source said, there’s less room for error in their design and manufacture. A slight imperfection in an antenna coming off the production line might lead to connection problems later on.

Interestingly, despite the fact that Apple and Qualcomm came to terms not too long ago (leading to the partnership for the iPhone 12’s 5G capabilities), Apple still feels like it’s “getting screwed on royalties”. As such, Apple wants to limit the Qualcomm-branded pieces in its devices, which is another reason why Apple is reportedly building its own custom 5G antenna.

And there are still questions lingering:

As for who will build the antenna in this year’s 5G iPhone, Apple’s design plans are surprisingly fluid in the months before its big announcements. Plans change. Components and features are added and dropped. What we know is that Apple has at least two options for the antenna in its inaugural 5G device. A final decision between the two will likely happen before this summer.

So, Apple could have some really big news later this year, on top of all the new devices alone. But what do you think? Should Apple go down this road?