Apple has started working on its own cellular modem for its future devices. The move will allow Apple to reduce its reliance on Qualcomm for modem inside iPhones and other products.
In a town hall meeting, Apple’s SVP of Hardware Technologies, Johny Srouji revealed to Apple employees that the company has “kicked off the development of our first internal cellular modem which will enable another key strategic transition.” He further added that such “long-term strategic investments” are important for launching products with innovative technologies.
Apple leveraged on its Intel’s modem business acquisition from 2019 to build a team of hardware and software engineers for developing its own cellular modem. The company has also poached key engineers from Qualcomm, with its offices in San Diego and Cupertino focusing on the modem building effort.
Apple switched to using Qualcomm’s modem exclusively inside iPhones this year after years of sourcing them from Intel. However, the latter’s modem was always inferior in terms of performance, and with Intel’s team not able to stick to its promised 5G modem development cycle, Apple was forced to enter into a multi-billion dollar settlement with Qualcomm. The licensing deal between Qualcomm and Apple has a tenure of six years so it is likely that the first Apple product with its own modem will launch in a few years from now.
Qualcomm has long been the leader in cellular modem development. It also owns a number of key cellular patents which means other OEMs have to pay it royalties even if they don’t use its modem. Building a cellular modem is a difficult task and it will be interesting to see how Apple fares in this department. The company is already designing a number of key chips for its devices including the A-series chips inside iPhones, the H1 chip for AirPods, M1 chips for Macs, and more. All of them have been class-leading and far ahead of the competition.
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