'No communication with Apple on 5G modems,' says Huawei, and the NSA sighs with relief
"It’s personal. I don’t see anybody who can bridge this gap," tipped the WSJ recently about Apple and Qualcomm CEOs relationship. Thanks to the patent war with Qualcomm reaching a crescendo mode, last year Apple's iPhones shipped exclusively with "Intel inside" as far as cellular connectivity is concerned. That, however, is not an ideal solution for Apple, as Intel's modems are behind the curve when it comes to features, so it has been shopping around for other options.
Apple 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 brainchild, America's homeland security institutions would balk at Huawei's involvement due to geopolitical considerations, while MediaTek simply isn't up to par yet.
With Huawei and Samsung out, Intel is Apple's only 5G hope
Even those unpalatable options have now become harder to pick from, as, despite all recent rumors, Huawei company reps said during its Analyst Summit 2019 yesterday that:
Bummer, and Samsung simply can't make enough of its own 5G modems to supply huge customer like Apple, or so it claims. It recently declined Apple's advances for its Exynos 5100 5G modem. Not only does the company need its production for the Galaxy S10 5G that is now shipping, but it could very well need it for the Note 10 Pro, too. According to one "electronics industry official" there:
There you have it - unless Apple resolves the bad blood between the companies, Qualcomm is likely to sit its 5G push 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 a cycle or two behind.
5G gets going and Apple can get a case of FOMO
South Korea just launched its nationwide 5G network, with the Galaxy S10 5G being its poster child. Upon the phone's release there, Korea will have all of its largest networks offering 5G plans. In fact, Korea Telecom announced three 5G price tiers. Among those, there is a "Super Plan" that offers truly unlimited 5G data without speed caps, and this one will go for the equivalent of $70, a pretty good price no matter how you slice it. In fact, the Super 5G Plan is somewhat cheaper than the current unlimited 4G LTE plans in Korea, so the 5G future seems bright, and we are expecting more and more 5G handsets to enter the fray this year, especially towards the tail end of 2019.
A true nationwide shift to 5G networks is not happening this year in the US anyway, so iPhone users won't be missing all that much until then. Next year, however, most of the flagship phones of the spring season will probably have some sort of 5G connectivity support, be it with a Qualcomm, Samsung or Huawei modem, and Apple could feel the pinch in that regard.
If in the fall of 2020 Apple hasn't solved its 5G modem supply options, however, there might be image and perception consequences. As virtually all of Apple's 5G avenues have dried up and will incur extra expenses, patching thing up with Qualcomm could very well be the smart solution. "Apple knows our phone number, we are still in San Diego," tipped Qualcomm recently, giving a glimmer of 5G hope.