Apple Shifts In-House Modem Dev Team To Big Leagues As It Preps 5G Push For iPhones

iPhone XR
Apple is a company that likes to keep as much of its hardware development in-house as it possibly can. This allows the company to extract the most performance possible from its hardware designs through increasing integration. The most famous example of this is the company's A-Series chips that power everything from iPhones to iPads to HomePods.

It's no secret that Apple has an in-house team dedicated to building future 5G cellular modems that would be used in its iPhone and iPad/iPad Pro product lines -- and perhaps even future MacBooks. A new report from Reuters claims that Apple has now shifted its engineering team behind these modems to the company's primary hardware technology group responsible for A-Series and S-Series chip development. 

This group is headed by Apple veteran Johny Srouji, who serves as the SVP of Hardware Technologies. According to sources familiar with the move, Srouji took the lead on modem development last month; the efforts to develop the modems had previously been helmed by Rubén Caballero.

Intel XMM 7560
Apple currently uses Intel 4G LTE modems in its iPhone and iPad Pro models.

This development is essential to Apple for two reasons. First of all, Apple and [global] leading modem supplier Qualcomm are in an all-out war over patents and licensing fees. Secondly, Apple's current modem supplier, Intel, is reportedly behind schedule with respect to performance and its development of 5G modems (at least compared to Qualcomm).

As with its SoCs like the A12 Bionic, using its own in-house designs means that Apple would not be beholden to suppliers' timetables or performance setbacks. It can set its own agenda and better integrate its designs to not only save money in the long run (it's estimated that Apple has to pay roughly $15 to $20 for each modem that goes into its mobile devices), but also to improve power efficiency in the cutthroat mobile market.

The move to 5G will be especially important for Apple, as this is the next generation of wireless technology that would likely fuel a surge in customer upgrades. 5G wireless technology promises faster download/upload speeds, lower latencies, and great capacity for carriers. 

Apple's push towards its own 5G modem is not a question of “if”, but a question of “when” at this point. And when that time arrives, Intel will lose one of its biggest suppliers for modems.