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Apple nicked Intel’s modem lead

by on29 April 2019

Just a little back-stab for a trusted partner

As it mulled over its surrender to Qualcomm, the fruity cargo cult Apple had a parting gift for its modem partner, Intel – it stole its lead designer.

According to a report in the Telegraph on Sunday, Umashankar Thyagarajan was poached in February as part of Apple’s long term goal to make its chips in the house.

Apple leaned much more heavily on Intel, using the latter company as its exclusive supplier for the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR. Intel is believed to have wasted a billion developing a 5G modem for Apple.  However, the Fruity cargo cult seemed to be as faithful to Intel as Lord Walder Frey to the Starks.

Not long after Thyagarajan left for Apple, the tech giant resolved its battle with Qualcomm, agreeing to terms including a payment from Apple to Qualcomm, a six year licensing deal, and a chip supply agreement. That left Intel’s 5G chip project without a main customer—and just hours later, Intel announced it was abandoning its 5G mobile ambitions entirely.

Internal emails show Thyagarajan was an important player in Intel’s iPhone XS and XR projects, and his switch to team Apple was seen as a significant set-back.

It forced the company to reshuffle the 5G project and then admit it could not release a 5G smartphone chip until 2020, more than a year after Qualcomm.

According to an email sent to Intel staff, written by executives Messay Amerga and Abhay Joshi, Thyagarajan had “played a key role” in the Intel chip that featured in last year’s iPhones and he had been the project engineer on developing its 5G chip, known as XMM 8160.

Thyagarajan’s appointment means that Apple is planning to make its own smartphone modem instead of buying them from partners after its five years with Qualcomm are up.  Of course, by then its Smartphone business will be a small part of the company business… if all goes to plan.

The dark satanic rumour mill suggests that Apple is planning to buy up the rest of Intel’s chip modem business entirely.

A Wall Street Journal report on Friday quoted sources as saying that Intel was still considering selling off parts of its modem chip business to “Apple or another acquirer” but that talks had cooled around the time of the Apple-Qualcomm settlement.

It is not clear who else would want to waste money on the modems as it cost Intel a billion dollars a year to supply Apple.

Last modified on 29 April 2019
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