Apple has boxed itself in on a 5G iPhone, and may not deliver in 2020

Apple has boxed itself in on a 5G iPhone, and may not deliver in 2020


As recently as the iPhone X, one could test whether they have an Intel or the more capable Qualcomm modems inside, but last year Apple's iPhones shipped exclusively as "Intel inside," as the patent war with Qualcomm reached a fever pitch.

Even that, however, is not an ideal solution for Apple, as Intel's modems are behind the curve when it comes to next-gen cellular connectivity. Last summer, insiders claimed that they have seen internal Intel communication regarding a memo that Apple sent Chipzilla. In it, Apple warns that it might no longer need Intel's wireless modem designs, including the 5G ones, starting with the 2020 iPhone crop. 

After a fallout with Qualcomm over patents and royalties, Apple moved entirely to Intel modem chips inside the 2018 iPhones, but Intel may not be an exclusive supplier for more than two years in a row. After Apple's letter that it will no longer need its services, Intel has reportedly halted research in this area and might disband the whole 5G modem undertaking, as Apple was its largest and perhaps sole customer. 


What will the team from Cupertino replace both Qualcomm and Intel with? Well, an analyst report for Bloomberg today basically says that Apple has boxed itself in, and none of the four remaining options is palatable. It could go with Samsung, Huawei or MediaTek's 5G modems, but each of those choices comes with severe drawbacks. Samsung will likely charge an arm and a leg for its 5G option, America's homeland security institutions would balk at Huawei's involvement due to geopolitical considerations, while MediaTek simply isn't up to par yet.

Unless Apple resolves the bad blood between the companies, Qualcomm is likely to sit this one out, so the last remaining option is for Apple to go it alone, either by acquiring Intel's wireless modem assets or starting from scratch (highly unlikely). All of these options mean either a lot of extra expenses for Apple in order to deliver a 5G iPhone in 2020, or falling behind the competition by launching one that is two cycles behind. 

We wouldn't put it past Apple to do exactly that, as it is not known to jump headfirst in every new and unproven technology - after all, it waited for years before adopting the OLED screen technology. Moreover, a true nationwide shift to 5G networks is not happening before 2020 rolls away at the earliest, so iPhone users won't be missing all that much until then. Apple's mojo, however, and share price, could suffer if they perceive the company as falling behind in the 5G race.

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35 Comments

1. Phonehex

Posts: 732; Member since: Feb 16, 2016

Apple will be hurt by this move. I can see them going back to QC in 2021.

9. sgodsell

Posts: 6737; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

This was to be expected, especially when Apple bit the hand that feeds them (or in this case supplied them), Qualcomm will give Apple low priority now. Especially when there is a lot more customers than Apple. With over 1.3 billion Android smartphones sold every year, it makes sense to give that group priority over Apples less than 200 million iPhones.

13. Phullofphil

Posts: 1740; Member since: Feb 10, 2009

You have no idea what your talking about. First of all apple is one company and android is many. Most of those android phones will use other modems. Apple did not night any hand that feeds them. It’s obvious they did not need them. If they go back to them who knows but you can garentee that they have a plan. They have the money and the drive and order numbers to go anywhere.

15. behold--me

Posts: 679; Member since: Jun 22, 2009

I don't think you read the article... yes apple has the money to shell out for new chips, but that money doesn't mean squat unless they have a supplier. QC is angry, Samsung will charge huge prices, Huawei and MediaTek are not viable options. Apple has to R&D their own, acquire Intel's R&D, or ask Sammy, all of which would cost tons of money and likely drive the handset prices even higher than the outrageous prices they charge now. The way the market has responded to the XS and XS Max, I don't think this scenario will end well for apple. And yes, there are many android manufacturers and one Apple company, but how many of those Android companies use QC chips in their phones? The vast majority of those sold in the U.S. for sure, but not sure about worldwide.

34. TheOracle1

Posts: 1911; Member since: May 04, 2015

I'm no Apple fan at all but this story is BS. 5G won't be mainstream and won't be a quantum upgrade over LTE for about 4 years. Network rollouts are ridiculously expensive and 5G requires about 2-3 times the number of cell sites to work effectively. Apple won't have a problem and I certainly won't be buying a 5G phone for next couple of years. The extortionate cost of 5G phones will be another factor along with the initial stupid data charges from the carriers.

2. lnrts99

Posts: 1; Member since: Sep 20, 2017

"We wouldn't put it past Apple to do exactly that, as it is not known to jump headfirst in every new and unproven technology "...lol. So I guess all the numerous gates over the years were proven tech?

3. md227a

Posts: 222; Member since: Mar 20, 2012

Look how long it took Apple to give us a 4G LTE iPhone

4. Mike88

Posts: 88; Member since: Mar 05, 2019

Who cares? Sooner or later they'll bring 5G when it'll be mainstream..for now they'll continue providing the best smartphones ever. Safe, fast secure and amazing

16. behold--me

Posts: 679; Member since: Jun 22, 2009

Safe, fast, secure, and at least 2-3 years behind android on contemporary features and technology. Yup, go apple.

5. foldablephone

Posts: 56; Member since: Sep 19, 2018

Likely Apple will buy Intel’s mobile wireless asset division. Intel will need to wind down this part of their business without them and Apple would prefer to supply their own 5G tech. This way, they get to make their own 5G tech without starting from scratch and falling further behind. They’ve got the cash to move quickly on this too.

7. User123456789

Posts: 400; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Every modem for smartphone has tech from Qualcomm. If Apple brings itw own, costs will be much higher. Development, patents licenses etc ....

14. Phullofphil

Posts: 1740; Member since: Feb 10, 2009

Then how is Qualcomm’s making money. That don’t make sence

25. User123456789

Posts: 400; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

You can use modem from Qualcomm or pay to use their tech .... But they will charge as much as they want.

6. Leo_MC

Posts: 6389; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

You know how long it takes to have a Qualcomm modem? A golf game.

8. Subie

Posts: 2273; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

Why would Apple want to future proof their phones today... #planned obsolescence

10. toukale

Posts: 605; Member since: Jun 10, 2015

I just love reading about all those faux rage and clickbait stories/articles on forums/sites like this. Reading some of those comments you would think its the end of the world for Apple. You can't have any meaningful discussions/conversations where you can learn anything new. From all I have read so far 5G is currently non-existent in the US. A few of the carriers are doing little deployments and testing in a few areas where you have to sign up if you are even lucky enough to live in those select few areas. Estimates best guess is that by 2023, up to 32 percent of North American and the US mobile connections will be on a 5G network. Read it again, best case scenario is 32% of the US and NA will have 5G coverage in 2023, but according to a lot of the comments on here Apple is in trouble in 2019 by not shipping a 5G iPhone. Sometimes folks wonder why some do not respect the so called journalists these days and the garbage they post and publish and those that comments on them with facts to back them up.http://www.5gamericas.org/en/newsroom/press-rel​eases/global-forecast-2023-10-billion-mobile-conne​ctions-including-13-billion-5g-connections/

11. Chumley

Posts: 38; Member since: Jan 22, 2018

Exactly. As if there is a clearly described, amazing benefit that faster speeds will allow handsets to do anyway. The larger metro areas that already have solid 4G will be.....faster. Rural areas will take years to see any change. I'm a diehard Samsung fan but I would still buy the S10+ over the 5G even if it were offered today. I'll probably have several phones before 5G makes it to my area and I'm not convinced first gen 5G phones will work as well as everyone says. Battery life, 5G>4G>3G switching...we'll see how the first phones handle this..

29. mootu

Posts: 1373; Member since: Mar 16, 2017

You are talking as though the US is Apples only market. China which is Apples 2nd largest market will have thier 5G up and running within 12 months. Japan which is another huge market for Apple won't be far behind and there are many more. If Apple don't have a 5G device available in these markets when 5G becomes available then customers will look elsewhere.

32. toukale

Posts: 605; Member since: Jun 10, 2015

Isn't that the same argument that was used with 4G/LTE? I have no idea how Apple survived that, I though they went out of business because they did not have a 4G/LTE device available first s/. The hyperbole is strong with some folks.

12. LawnBoy

Posts: 99; Member since: Feb 23, 2019

When is Apple ever at the forefront of innovation?

17. apple-rulz

Posts: 1875; Member since: Dec 27, 2016

5G won’t be a viable thing until at least 2022, so no big deal.

18. thedizzle

Posts: 190; Member since: Oct 05, 2017

Pretty much this lol.

20. scarface21173

Posts: 631; Member since: Aug 17, 2014

Yeah maybe 2022 for apple, Android its 2019.

21. apple-rulz

Posts: 1875; Member since: Dec 27, 2016

Here I'll explain it hopefully more clearly; the infastructure need to support 5G isn't even in it's infancy. Buy yourself a 5G version of the S10, and you will still be on 4G only.

22. scarface21173

Posts: 631; Member since: Aug 17, 2014

I remember buying and HD tv 2 years before it was mainstream in the uk. The only way you could recieve HD was to buy a bluray player and at the time the cheapest was £1200. 5G is the same, Its called future proofing your self.

24. toukale

Posts: 605; Member since: Jun 10, 2015

Not in this case, the average lifespan of tv's are 10 years, not so with smartphones. Smartphones are more like 2-4 years. By the time 5G is widespread, you will not want to carry around any first generation 5G devices. People love to make that comparison, but it does not work in this case.

26. scarface21173

Posts: 631; Member since: Aug 17, 2014

I thought we were all keeping our phones a lot longer these days. Hense mobile phone sales are down.

33. toukale

Posts: 605; Member since: Jun 10, 2015

Which is why it is 2-4 years instead of the 1-2 years it was in the past.

19. behold--me

Posts: 679; Member since: Jun 22, 2009

I think there's two sides to this issue: Functionality-wise, I honestly don't think it matters if Apple releases a 5G iPhone in the U.S. for the next 3ish years. 5G networks are very sparse at the moment, and it's going to take at least a few years to bring 5G to the mainstream, just like the transition to 4G awhile back. By this thinking, Apple has a few years to dig itself out of this hole, they'll be fine. However, I think this is a big deal when it comes to marketing and consumer perception of the brand/company. Samsung is releasing the first 5G mobile device in the U.S. on Verizon this spring, with LG following suit with their handset at some point (I think V50?). Even though 5G isn't "here" at the moment, it is coming, and Samsung/LG have shown that they are ready to embrace a new technological age. If Apple weren't to deliver a 5G iPhone until 2020-2021, consumers might perceive Apple as being behind the curve. I think my second is the more important one. The consumer may not notice/care that 5G isn't yet available in their area, they just want the latest and greatest thing in their pockets. The manufacturers with 5G phones market themselves as ready for the future when the little 5G icon pops up in your status bar, while those without 5G phones risk looking like they are falling behind.

23. toukale

Posts: 605; Member since: Jun 10, 2015

Not sure where you've been. Apple have nothing to fear in the case you just highlighted. If you have not been paying attention, At&t is putting not only 5g logo on the phones they sell, its 5g+ (lmfao). If the regular folks fall for this trick, you better believe the other carriers will follow suit with putting 5g+ logo on the devices they sell, which will confuse the heck out of the regular users. Remember the 4G mess and therefore we were forced to go with LTE at the end since the carriers f**k it up.

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