Apple's goal to launch 2022 iPhone with in-house 5G modem might be too aggressive

Apple's goal to launch 2022 iPhone with in-house 5G modem might be too aggressive
Apple has been developing its own 5G modem for several years now. But after purchasing Intel’s smartphone modem business back in July, the Cupertino-based giant reportedly set itself some aggressive internal targets that could make the chip a reality within the next few years.

2023 might be a more realistic goal for Apple's modem


People familiar with Apple’s plans revealed to Fast Company that, internally, the company is aggressively pushing to integrate its custom 5G modem inside the 2022 iPhone series that’ll presumably be marketed as the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro.

This timeline actually coincides more or less perfectly with a report published by Reuters one day after Apple announced its purchase of Intel’s modem business. At the time, the Silicon Valley-based brand was aiming to integrate its first-generation 5G modem inside the 2021 iPad Pro series that’s expected to launch in October of that year. This would be followed by the integration of its second-generation chip around eleven months later in the 2022 iPhone series, as predicted by Fast Company’s sources. However, this group of people believes the current timeline could be a bit too aggressive. 

Although it’s certainly possible to design the chip and start manufacturing within the proposed schedule, the sources familiar with Apple’s plans admitted that a lengthy certification and testing process make 2023 a much more realistic target. That’s because the modem will have to be put through a range of network optimization tests that ensure compatibility with global 5G networks and satisfy the standards required by the likes of the FCC.

Another important factor is Apple’s lack of experience with smartphone modems. Sources within the company believe some of the people involved don’t fully understand the work that’s required, hence the overly aggressive targets. It’s also worth pointing out that Apple has already delayed the chip twice – it was previously targeting 2020 and 2021 launches. 

How did Apple get to its current situation?


The lead up to Apple’s current situation has been pretty messy, to say the least. The iPhone giant used Qualcomm’s chips exclusively for many years but was forced to switch over to Intel’s modems entirely in 2018 following a dispute over royalties with its former supplier.

After a lengthy legal battle, Apple and Qualcomm finally buried the hatchet in April and reached a six-year modem supply agreement that can be extended a further two years until 2027 if Apple wishes to do so. The 2019 iPhone series still uses Intel’s 4G LTE modems but next year’s 2020 series is expected to make the switch back over to Qualcomm’s alternatives, a move that’ll coincide perfectly with the introduction of support for 5G networks. 

Apple’s 2021 lineup is expected to follow suit and time will tell if the 2022 iPhones do too. Either way, if any other bumps are hit down the road, Apple is ultimately covered until 2025 so it’s certainly got no reason to rush.

The in-house 5G modem should eventually benefit customers


The decision to produce an in-house 5G modem is perhaps driving by the fact that it allows Apple to further reduce its dependence on third-party suppliers. However, there’s also one important detail that’ll ultimately benefit consumers.

When Apple first started working with Intel, Fast Company says it hoped to build up a close relationship that’d eventually allow it to integrate the company’s modems into an updated system-on-chip design that’d include everything from the CPU and GPU to NPU and modem.

This ultimately never happened but is inevitable considering Apple’s controlling modem development. The aggressive internal goals mean that it may not happen with the first or second-generation modems – Apple may choose to separate the modem from the SoC – but it should eventually become a reality. In turn, the development will improve efficiency and improve modem speeds, two factors that’ll benefit the end-user.

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