Apple's 5G iPhones Again Pegged For Late 2020 Release At The Earliest

If you were expecting to purchase a 5G-equipped iPhone late next year, you're going to be disappointed. Following up on two previous reports that suggested that Apple won't release a 5G capable iPhone until 2020, another fresh report seemingly adds credence to those rumors.

Bloomberg says that the delay in launching 5G smartphones is two-fold. The first issue stems from the fact that Apple is currently feuding with Qualcomm, which has traditionally been Apple's primary supplier for LTE modem chips in its iPhone and iPads. However, patent licensing issues have soured that relationship, sending Apple running into the welcoming arms of Intel.

iPhone XR 

However, Intel's 5G modem program is reportedly running well behind Qualcomm's, and Intel's modems won't be ready in time for the fall 2019 launch for the next-generation iPhones according to Bloomberg.

The second reason for the delay is more in keeping with Apple's traditional stance towards big changes in cellular standards. The original iPhone debuted with 2G EDGE connectivity when 3G modems were common in competing devices. Likewise, Apple jumped on the 4G LTE bandwagon a year after supporting networks initially launched. If this new report is accurate, Apple's first 5G iPhone will be launching at least 18 months after the first mobile 5G networks are operational within the United States.

Some analysts see Apple's decision to sit on the sidelines -- compounded by Intel's delay in having 5G modems available for use in shipping products -- could turn out to be a bad business move. Verizon announced this morning that it will make available a 5G Samsung smartphone -- likely the Galaxy S10 -- during the first half of 2018. That will give Samsung and any other Android OEM that decides to jump on the 5G bandwagon some big bragging rights over Apple.

Intel 5G Modem

In addition, the performance and latency differential between 5G and 4G LTE wireless technologies is expected to be much greater than it was initially between and 4G LTE and 3G. 

“Apple has always been a laggard in cellular technology,” said Gartner analyst Mark Hung. “They weren’t impacted in the past, but 5G is going to be much easier to market. But if they wait beyond 2020, then I think they’ll be impacted.”

With iPhone sales flat (as of the company's last earnings report), taking a gamble with 5G availability could end up coming back to bite Apple. However, it remains to be seen how the initial rollout of 5G wireless networks will proceed in the coming year. We'll need to see real world performance metrics and keep an eye on carrier pricing to see if 5G is truly the "next big thing" in wireless right off the bat, or if Apple's decision to take "wait and see approach" will once again work in its favor as early adopters deal with potential teething problems.