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.
Apple has only a few 5G iPhone options left, none of which includes the best choice
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.