Apple-Designed iPhone Modems Could Take Until 2025, Intel Confirms Interest in Modem Business

The Information has published a lengthy look into Apple's seemingly deteriorating relationship with Intel in terms of iPhone modems, leading to Apple's rekindled relationship with rival chipmaker Qualcomm last month.

Intel 5G Modem
The report claims that Apple's frustrations with Intel's modem efforts began earlier than previous reports have indicated and involved Intel's struggles with modems for the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR, not just the 5G smartphone modem business that Intel announced its exit from last month.
It was early 2017 and Apple was preparing a new line of iPhones to be released the next year, but the Intel modem for the devices, known as the 7560, wasn't working properly, according to two people with knowledge of the relationship. […] Intel had already overhauled the modem four times to bring it up to par with the latest Qualcomm modem. But missed deadlines and continuing technical issues with the chip were making Apple executives anxious, said one of the people.

"This would have never happened at Apple under my watch," Mr. Srouji barked at his Intel counterpart, Venkata "Murthy" Renduchintala, during a meeting on Apple's campus, according to the person, who was present at the meeting.
The size and structure of Intel's mobile division made it difficult to efficiently engineer modems, with teams struggling to work together, according to multiple current and former Intel employees and industry partners cited in the report.

In a statement provided to The Information, Intel also confirmed interest in its modem business from many companies, reportedly including Apple:
We have world-class 5G modem technology that very few companies have the IP and expertise to deliver. That's why many companies have expressed interest in acquiring our cellular modem assets since our recent announcement that we are assessing our options to realize the value we have created.
While it appears that Apple and Qualcomm's multi-year licensing and chipset supply agreement will result in Qualcomm supplying modems for the first 5G-enabled iPhones, expected to launch in 2020, multiple reports have indicated that Apple is on the path to developing its own cellular modems.

According to The Information, however, those in-house effort appear to be farther away than initially thought. During interviews, the report claims Apple told prospective engineers that they expect to have their own modem ready by 2025, far later than the earliest theoretical possibility of 2021.


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iPhone XS Max Signal Strength Compared to OnePlus 7 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S10

The Samsung Galaxy S10 and the new OnePlus 7 Pro are both flagship smartphones that are designed to compete with the iPhone XS Max, and to see how their LTE chips compare, PCMag teamed up with Cellular Insights to test the signal strength of the new devices.

Apple's iPhone XS Max is equipped with an XMM7560 modem chip from Intel, while the Galaxy S10 and the OnePlus 7 Pro are using Qualcomm's X24 modem, which theoretically offers better performance.

iPhone XS Max in blue, OnePlus 7 Pro in orange, Samsung Galaxy S10 in gray, and LG V40 in yellow

The Intel XMM7560 modem in the iPhone XS Max supports supports 5-carrier aggregation but offers 1Gb/s maximum theoretical data transfer speeds, while the Qualcomm X24 in the Galaxy S10 has max theoretical speeds of 2Gb/s (it uses 7-carrier aggregation) and the OnePlus 7 Pro has max theoretical speeds of 1.2Gb/s (lower because it uses 5-carrier aggregation like the iPhone).

In testing on LTE band 4 with good signal, there wasn't a lot of difference in performance between the iPhone XS Max, the newer smartphones from Samsung and OnePlus, and the LG V40, which PCMag added in because it was 2018's best performing phone in terms of cellular speed.

All of the smartphones performed similarly, but the Samsung Galaxy S10 did see some of the slowest speeds, and at peak signal, the iPhone XS came in behind the OnePlus 7 Pro and the LG V40.

In a test with poorer LTE signal, the iPhone XS Max saw the slowest speeds and was outperformed by all of the Qualcomm chips. The iPhone XS Max was quite a bit slower than the Galaxy S10 and the OnePlus 7 Pro specifically.


Starting in 2020, Apple is no longer going to use Intel chips and is instead going to transition to Qualcomm's 5G chips. Intel has decided that it's exiting the 5G smartphone modem chip business leaving Apple no choice but to rely on Qualcomm technology and perhaps some chips from Samsung.

Apple and Qualcomm recently settled a vicious legal battle which had seen Apple refusing to use Qualcomm chips. Because of the dispute, Apple used Intel chips in the 2018 iPhones, and is expected to continue to use Intel chips for the 2019 iPhones.

Though the legal battle is over, Apple isn't likely to have time to swap over to Qualcomm modem chips for the 2019 iPhones, and Intel has confirmed that it's going to continue to supply 4G chips to meet its current obligations.


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Apple Considered Purchasing Intel’s Smartphone Modem Chip Business

Apple had discussions with Intel about potentially acquiring parts of Intel's smartphone modem chip business, reports The Wall Street Journal. Apple was interested in Intel's technology to speed up its own efforts to build modem chips for smartphones.

Intel and Apple entered into discussions last summer and the talks continued for months, but ended right around the time Apple settled its legal dispute and reached a supply agreement with Qualcomm.

Intel 5G Modem
Sources at Intel that spoke to The Wall Street Journal said that Intel is exploring "strategic alternatives" for its smartphone modem chip business, and is still interested in a sale to Apple or another company.

In an interview yesterday, Intel CEO Bob Swan confirmed that Intel is considering alternatives "based on what's best" for Intel's IP and employees.
Selling the modem business would allow Intel to unload a costly operation that was losing about $1 billion annually, according to another person familiar with its performance. Any sale would likely include staff, a portfolio of patents and modem designs related to multiple generations of wireless technology, said Patrick Moorhead, principal at Moor Insights & Strategy, a technology firm.
Intel announced earlier this month that it was exiting the 5G smartphone business, just hours after Apple and Qualcomm announced a resolution to their legal troubles and a new supply deal.

Apple had been planning to use Intel's 5G chips in its 2020 iPhones, but rumors suggested Intel was having trouble meeting design deadlines and that the relationship between Apple and Intel was souring. Just yesterday, Swan also confirmed that Apple's deal with Qualcomm was the reason why Intel decided to stop making 5G chips.

Apple is now planning to use Qualcomm's 5G modem chips in its 2020 5G iPhones. Intel has said that it is going to continue to supply 4G LTE chips to meet already established orders, which means that Apple's 2019 iPhone lineup will likely continue to use Intel chips rather than Qualcomm chips. It is too late in the design cycle for Apple to swap chips for this year's upcoming devices.


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Intel Cites Apple-Qualcomm Settlement as Reason Behind Exiting 5G Smartphone Modem Business

Last week's surprise Apple and Qualcomm settlement and multiyear chipset supply agreement was the driving force behind Intel exiting the 5G smartphone modem business, according to Intel CEO Bob Swan.

Intel 5G Modem
"In light of the announcement of Apple and Qualcomm, we assessed the prospects for us to make money while delivering this technology for smartphones and concluded at the time that we just didn't see a path," Swan said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, as noted by The Verge.

Swan's comment suggests that Intel was surprised by the Apple-Qualcomm settlement and acted reactively when it announced its exit from the 5G smartphone modem business just hours later, but multiple reports indicate that Intel was unable to meet Apple's demands for 5G modems in 2020 iPhones.

It's hard to imagine that Apple and Qualcomm would have suddenly settled their bitter legal battle if Intel was able to supply 5G modems for 2020 iPhones, but Intel was reportedly struggling with its 5G modem development, possibly leaving Apple with little to no choice but to settle with Qualcomm.

iPhones have a long development cycle, so it was likely crunch time for Apple to choose a 5G modem supplier for its 2020 iPhones. Given this long lead time, Intel is still expected to supply LTE modems for 2019 iPhones.


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Intel Exiting 5G Smartphone Modem Business, Won’t Make 5G iPhone Chips at All

Intel this afternoon announced plans to exit the 5G smartphone modem business to instead focus on opportunities for 4G and 5G modems in PCs, internet of things devices, and other data-centric devices.

The announcement comes just hours after Apple and Qualcomm reached a settlement and agreed to drop all litigation against one another. Intel said that it will continue current customer commitments for existing 4G smartphone modems, but it will not launch 5G modems in the smartphone space.

Intel 5G Modem
In a statement, Intel CEO Bob Swan said that there is "no clear path to profitability and positive returns" in the smartphone modem business.
"We are very excited about the opportunity in 5G and the 'cloudification' of the network, but in the smartphone modem business it has become apparent that there is no clear path to profitability and positive returns," said Intel CEO Bob Swan. "5G continues to be a strategic priority across Intel, and our team has developed a valuable portfolio of wireless products and intellectual property. We are assessing our options to realize the value we have created, including the opportunities in a wide variety of data-centric platforms and devices in a 5G world."
Rumors earlier today suggested Apple would use Qualcomm's 5G chips in its 2020 iPhones, and now it's apparent that the Cupertino company has no choice with Intel opting to pull out of the chip business all together.

Following Apple's legal battle with Qualcomm, Intel was the sole supplier of modem chips for the 2018 iPhone lineup and planned to provide 5G chips for Apple in 2020.

Intel had been working on the XMM 8160 5G chip, which was going to be used in the 2020 iPhone lineup. Rumors earlier this month indicated the relationship between Apple and Intel had grown tense as Intel began missing developmental deadlines on the 5G chip, leading Apple to lose confidence in Intel's ability to provide the chips in time for a 2020 5G iPhone launch.

Apple appears to have been left with no choice but to settle with Qualcomm in order to be able to roll out a 5G iPhone in 2020 as planned. Apple's settlement with Qualcomm included a six-year licensing agreement and a multiyear chipset supply agreement.

Apple is said to be sticking with Intel chips in 2019 because it's too late for the company to adopt Qualcomm's chips, but in 2020, Qualcomm may be Apple's only chip supplier once again.

To reduce its reliance on Qualcomm, Apple is working on its own chip technology, but Apple's own modem chips aren't expected to be ready until 2021.

Related Roundup: 2019 iPhones

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Apple Plans to Use Qualcomm Chips for 5G iPhones in 2020 Following Settlement

Apple is planning to purchase 5G modem chips from Qualcomm for use in its 2020 iPhones, according to a source with knowledge of today's settlement plans that spoke to Nikkei.

Apple won't be able to use Qualcomm chips in its 2019 iPhone lineup, but has already been testing Qualcomm's 5G chips for 2020 devices.

"It is too late for Apple to use Qualcomm's chips this year, but for 2020 it will purchase modem chips, including 5G modem chips, from the chipmaker for iPhones after finalizing the deal," a source with direct knowledge of the settlement plan told Nikkei.

As it moved toward a settlement, Apple started testing Qualcomm's 5G modem chips and asked some of its suppliers to test the chipmaker's product, Nikkei has learned.
Qualcomm and Apple have reportedly been negotiating for weeks to reach the settlement that was announced today. In a press release, Apple said that the two companies had agreed to drop all litigation with a six-year licensing agreement for Qualcomm's technology. Apple also said that the deal included a "multiyear chipset supply agreement."

Apple initially planned to use Intel's 5G chips in its 2020 iPhones, but recent reports have suggested that Intel has been missing developmental deadlines, causing Apple to lose confidence in Intel.

For a September 2020 launch, Apple needs to have sample 5G chips in hand in mid 2019, with finished chips available in early 2020, and rumors indicated Intel might not make that goal.

Apple in 2018 used Intel's chips exclusively for its iPhone lineup due to the bitter legal battle with Qualcomm, but may have had no choice but to settle with Qualcomm in order to ensure a 5G iPhone launch in 2020.

Smartphone makers like Samsung are debuting their first 5G smartphones this year, which means Apple is already launching 5G technology behind other manufacturers. Another year of delay rolling out 5G would have put iPhones far behind other devices.

Qualcomm has already debuted two 5G chips, including the X50 and the X55.

It's not clear if Apple will use Qualcomm chips exclusively for the 2020 iPhones or will split orders between Intel and Qualcomm as it has done in the past. According to Nikkei's source, Apple was concerned whether a sole supplier would affect its plans to introduce the first 5G smartphone in 2020.

Apple is working on developing its own modem chips in house to avoid relying on either Qualcomm or Intel, but those chips reportedly won't be ready for a 2020 iPhone launch.

Related Roundup: 2019 iPhones

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Qualcomm ‘Running Out’ of Time to Win 5G Modem Orders in 2020 iPhones Amid Legal Battle With Apple

Qualcomm may be running out of time if it wants to supply Apple with 5G modems for its 2020 iPhones as some rumors suggest.


In a research note today, analysts at investment bank Barclays said that while they originally thought Qualcomm had an opportunity to supply the 5G modems to Apple, they now believe that time "seems to be running out" unless the two companies can settle their bitter legal battle in the next few weeks.

Back in November, it was reported that Apple will tap Intel as its 5G modem supplier instead, but Barclays analysts believe that the modem design for 2020 iPhones "needs to be set now," and that the expected late 2019 availability of Intel's first consumer 5G modem "does not work with Apple's timeline."

Apple recently testified that it held conversations with Samsung and MediaTek as potential alternative suppliers, but it's unclear if those companies would be able to meet Apple's production, quality, and cost demands.

Apple is also reportedly working on its own cellular modems, but research and development appears to be in the early stages.

Last week, Intel confirmed that it expects the first consumer products embedded with its 5G chips to be released in 2020, the same year Apple is rumored to release its first 5G-enabled iPhone, enabling faster data speeds.


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Intel’s 5G Chips Won’t Appear in Mobile Phones Until 2020

Reuters reports that Intel has confirmed that it does not expect their 5G chips to be in consumer products until 2020.
Intel Corp executives said on Friday its 5G modem chips will not appear in mobile phones until 2020, raising the possibility its biggest customer, Apple Inc, will be more than a year behind rivals in delivering a device that uses the faster networks.
Intel's timeline is tied closely with Apple's product plans due to Apple's reliance on Intel chips for their iPhone modems. Previously a Qualcomm customer, Apple and Qualcomm have been at odds due to an ongoing legal battle between the two companies. In fact, Qualcomm has been reportedly unwilling to sell their chips to Apple because of the conflict.

Intel 5G Modem
That has left Apple reliant on Intel for their modem chips in the latest line of iPhones, though Apple has been exploring other vendors, and even working to develop their own chips. That plan, however, isn't expected to produce results until 2021, at least.

Apple's waiting until 2020 to deliver 5G iPhones doesn't come as a surprise as previous rumors have said the same. This statement by Intel, however, does seem to confirm some of those previous rumors.

Related Roundup: 2019 iPhones

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Intel Expecting Apple to Transition to Custom ARM-Based Chips Starting in 2020

Apple is planning to ditch Intel and transition to Mac chips starting in 2020, based on multiple rumors we've heard in the past from Bloomberg. Axios today confirmed Bloomberg's reporting and said that multiple sources have suggested Apple will transition to custom ARM-based chips next year.

According to Axios, developers and Intel officials are expecting Apple to begin using ARM-based chips in 2020.


The move to ARM-based chips is said to be part of Apple's effort to make Macs, iPhones, and iPads work together and run the same apps. Bloomberg earlier this week said that by 2021, Apple wants developers to be able to create one app that will work on iPhones, iPads, and Macs.

Apple's transition to a single app for all devices has already begun. Last year, Apple ported several of its iOS apps, such as Voice Memos, Stocks, and Home, to macOS. This year, Apple plans to let developers transition iPad apps to macOS, and in 2020, that will include iPhone apps. In 2021, then, developers will be able to make just one app that users can download on any of Apple's platforms.

This transition will greatly increase the number of Mac apps available, and it will cut down on the amount of work developers have to put in to create a Mac app. It will also better unify Apple's operating systems across all of its devices.

There have been rumors about Apple transitioning to ARM-based Macs for years now, and they have ramped up given the many Intel chip delays that have resulted in subsequent delays for Mac products. With its own ARM-based chips, Apple will not be tied to Intel's chip release cycles.

Apple already makes its own A-series chips for the iPhone and the iPad, and there are also custom Apple chips in recent Macs -- the T2. The T2 chip, in the iMac Pro and 2018 MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and Mac mini models, integrates several components including the system management controller, image signal processor, SSD controller, and a Secure Enclave with a hardware-based encryption engine. It powers the Touch Bar in the MacBook Pro and the Touch ID feature in the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.

Apple is a major Intel customer, responsible for approximately five percent of Intel's annual revenue, so the transition to ARM-based chips will be a major blow for Intel, but a win for customers in the long run. Apple's modern A-series chips for iPhone and iPad are already more powerful than many Intel chips on the market.

Tag: Intel

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Intel Names Robert Swan CEO Following Reports That Apple’s Johny Srouji Was a Candidate

Intel today announced that it has appointed Robert Swan as its new CEO, ending the chipmaker's long search for a new leader.


Swan had served as Intel's interim CEO since Brian Krzanich resigned seven months ago after violating the company's non-fraternization policy. Early reports indicated Swan was not interested in the role on a permanent basis, but he has evidently changed his mind and will remain in the position.

Apple's chipmaking chief Johny Srouji was reportedly on Intel's list of candidates, but he was apparently not interested in the job.

Swan joined Intel in October 2016 as CFO.


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