Apple’s Homegrown 5G Modems Reportedly On Deck For 2023 iPhones

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While Qualcomm and Apple buried the [legal] hatchet in 2019 concerning lawsuits regarding licensing and copyright infringement over 4G LTE modems, the latter is still far along with the development of its own next-generation hardware. In years past, Apple used a mixture of Intel and Qualcomm modems (its current iPhones and iPads exclusively use Qualcomm hardware).

But we all know that Apple is quickly bringing major component design in-house, and the modem is a pricey piece of the smartphone puzzle. According to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple's first in-house 5G modems will debut in 2023 iPhones. That means that Qualcomm will have just two more years of exclusivity before Apple charts its own path.

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Qualcomm's Snapdragon X55 5G modem is currently used in the iPhone 12 family.

Apple has long maintained a separate hardware division dedicated to building modems to break free of Qualcomm. However, it got a big boost when the company bought the remnants of Intel's modem business for $1 billion in 2019. This loss will represent a concussive blow to Qualcomm, as Apple is routinely one of the two top smartphone makers globally with respect to sales.

"As Android sales in the high-end 5G phone market are sluggish, Qualcomm will be forced to compete for more orders in the low-end market to compensate for Apple's order loss," said Kuo in a research note obtained by MacRumors. "When the supply constraints improve, MediaTek and Qualcomm will have less bargaining power over brands, resulting in significantly higher competitive pressure in the mid-to low- end market."

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We can expect that Apple-designed modems will offer performance and efficiency benefits over a third-party solution from companies like Qualcomm. With Apple controlling the entire stack from hardware to software, there is plenty of room for optimizations and Apple's own "tricks" regarding integrating into its ecosystem.

There's also the potential that Apple's foray into modems will finally give it the incentive to offer optional 5G connectivity on its MacBooks. PC OEMs have long offered 4G LTE and 5G connectivity as optional features on their laptops, but Apple users have been relegated to tethering with their iPhone or a separate hotspot when on the go.

We should temper this information as being mere speculation at this point, but Kuo’s track record give us high confidence in its validity.