Apple Hiring 1200 Employees In Qualcomm’s Backyard To Further 5G Modem Development

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The days of Apple relying on Intel modems may be coming to an end sooner rather than later. Right now, Apple’s marriage to Intel with regards to 4G LTE modems is one of convenience. Apple is involved in a drawn-out legal battle with Qualcomm over modem licensing fees and would prefer to not to user their chips out of principal. With Intel being the only other supplier that an provide the quantity and quality of modems that it needs for its iPhones and iPads, Apple doesn’t really have any other choice.

But there are growing signals that even Apple’s partnership with Intel may be short-lived. Apple announced on Wednesday that it will be bringing on an additional 1,200 employees in San Diego over the next three years. In case you didn’t already know this, San Diego is the home to Qualcomm, which means that Apple will likely be poaching employees at an alarming rate.

Things will start off small, with an expected 200 jobs coming by the end of 2019, and will quickly ramp up from there. “Apple has been a part of San Diego for nearly 20 years through our retail presence and small, fast-growing teams – and with this new investment we are proud to play an even greater part in the city’s future,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook. “You don’t have to try too hard to convince people that San Diego is a great place to live, work and do business, and we’re confident our employees will have a great home among the community there.”

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Intel XMM 8160 5G modem

Although the press release announcing Apple’s investment doesn’t specifically call it out, this engineering team is almost assuredly going to be tasked with developing the company’s own 5G modems. Just as Apple long ago took the step of designing its own SoCs for its hardware devices (starting with the Apple A4 in the original iPad and iPhone 4), the move to build its own 5G modems would further the company’s efforts to bring an increasing amount of chip development in-house.

According to a report from Reuters earlier this month, the team previously dedicated to developing Apple’s 5G modem has been rolled into the larger primary hardware technology group that develops A-Series processors. The team is helmed by Apple SVP Johny Srouji.

If Apple were to go with Intel’s 5G modems for a 2020 launch, the XMM 8160 5G could be seriously outgunned by competing chips from Qualcomm. Qualcomm is already shipping its first-generation Snapdragon X50 5G modem, and its newly announced Snapdragon X55 will begin shipping late this year. By the time the 2020 iPhones are around, Qualcomm will already have future Snapdragon SoCs with an integrated 5G modem, which will lead to space and efficiency gains for Android devices.

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Qualcomm's second-generation Snapdragon X55 5G modem

Apple could always go running back to Qualcomm, but that ship has already sailed given the animosity between the two companies. Another option suggested by a Bloomberg report this week is that Apple could purchase Intel’s modem business – this could seriously jumpstart the company’s 5G modem efforts, but it is deemed to be a “reasonable but expensive
long-term solution.”

In the end the most likely outcome is that Apple’s 2020 iPhone will be the last that use Intel modems, with perhaps a 2021 launch for the company’s own in-house offering. Of course, that’s just speculation on our part at this point, but it seems highly probable. 

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