Published in Mobiles

Apple is making its own modem

by on10 February 2019

Reuters confirmed what we said in December

Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior vice president of hardware technologies, was rumored to become a new Intel CEO but instead he got a rocky ride to build a modem for Apple. This is again our "we told you so moment" as we suggested that this will happen and the last time we wrote about it was in mid-December, or months before Reuters.

Using Intel is a temporary solution and the fact that Apple insisted that it get Qualcomm’s source code for every single modem always sounded alarming. We have pointed out before that Apple wants things in house and that it has been working on a modem for a while even earlier. 

Apple pushed application processor manufacture, later pushed Imagination Technologies by making its own graphics and now the modem is the last big piece of the technology jigsaw that has been missing.

Huawei has one, Samsung has one and Apple is the only one out of the big three that doesn’t have one. Xiaomi and Oppo who also make the top-five manufacturers list are still happy buying modems and technology from Qualcomm.

The fact that Johnny is taking over modem development from Rubén Caballero usually means that the company has to step up the game and that the previous guy hasn't been doing a great job.

5G will be tough for Apple 

The fact that Apple didn’t commit to working with Qualcomm on 2018 modems and the fact that its 5G technology has to come from Intel is a strong indication that Apple will be late to the 5G game. It is crystal clear that most Android leading high end manufacturers will start their 5G journey in the course of 2019 while Apple at best can launch its 5G phone in September 2020. Intel has admitted being late compared to Qualcomm at the FTC trial and it looks like Qualcomm can introduce 5G far ahead of Intel. Since Apple doesn’t have Qualcomm 5G source code - at least not the recent one - will definitely slow down its development.

The distinguished college and president of the Liney Group was very optimistic about Apple's effort. “When you’re Apple, everything has to be good”, said Linley Gwennap, president of the chip industry research firm. “There’s no room for some substandard component in that phone.”

Apple usually launches some great technology inside its phones but modems are much harder than anything else to design in a phone. It takes decades of investment and research to get to the point you can introduce a great piece. The fact that 5G is a new beginning and that Apple has to use someone’s 5G mm Wave antennas is not helping either. Qualcomm has proved that its design works and it will be announced by multiple partners supporting mmWave frequencies.

It might take years

Needless to say, while Linley is right with the way Apple operates and acts, it is not clear with which generation can Apple catch up with the competition. Samsung which has its own quite good modem still uses Qualcomm for 5G in the US as it is ready today and it is proven. Huawei wants to stick with its own technology.

This will be one rocky road, but Apple will launch half decent modems and still convince its followers to get them, as they are locked into the ecosystem. Apple needs its modem to work, not to be great, and they will get there at some point.

The real question is just when, not if, but for us, this still seems at least two years away. We reported that Apple worked on its own graphics and that one certainly took more than a few years to officially reveal and introduce.


Last modified on 10 February 2019
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