Samsung snubs Apple on 5G modem supply, leaving few good options for the 2020 iPhones


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.


Surprise, surprise, even those unpalatable options have now become harder to pick from, as Korean media is reporting today that Samsung has declined Apple's advances for its Exynos 5100 5G modem. Not only does the company need its production for the Galaxy S10 5G that will be shipping tomorrow in Korea but it could very well need it for the Note 10, too. 

Samsung, it turns out, is simply unable to churn out 5G modems in the quality and quantity that Apple would demand, or so it claims. 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.

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. Intel reportedly halted research in this area and might disband the whole 5G modem undertaking, as Apple was its largest and perhaps sole customer.

5G gets going and Apple's 2020 iPhones can't go FOMO


South Korea just launched its nationwide 5G network, with the Galaxy S10 5G being its poster child. Upon the phone's release there tomorrow, 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 would be a smart solution so we'll keep our eyes on the patent lawsuit as it moves through the court system.

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25 Comments

1. AbhiD

Posts: 850; Member since: Apr 06, 2012

It would be fun to see Apple going back to Qualcomm begging for 5G modems

21. oldskool50 unregistered

They can't QC has already refused to sell Apple anything. Which is exactly what all of them should do.

2. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2458; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

As soon as the court battle is over I’m sure that Apple and Qualcomm will becomes business partners again. It’s happened all too often before with companies going to battle and then making up.

3. TheOracle1

Posts: 2340; Member since: May 04, 2015

Agreed. But that's what happens when you only build 5% of the phone yourself and rely on suppliers for virtually everything. Sitting on $200bn+ and maintaining a relatively measly R&D budget doesn't show much foresight.

4. Subie

Posts: 2398; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

I would agree with all you're criticisms if it were not for the fact that under Apple's current business model they still are one of the most, if not the most profitable tech company in the world.

6. TheOracle1

Posts: 2340; Member since: May 04, 2015

You're right, they are the most profitable. Unfortunately complacency has been the result of those big profits. How can such "smart" people running a huge company leave themselves in a position where they can't even source adequate components? They've been skimping on R&D for years compared to their competitors and they're paying the price today. Heck, they should just buy Mediatek and produce their own. A few billion out of their stash won't be felt.

15. NarutoKage14

Posts: 1327; Member since: Aug 31, 2016

That is exactly what 100%+ of businesses worldwide do. No company in the world has the resources, expertise, personnel, intellectual property or infrastructure to deliver a 100% internally created product.

17. Vokilam

Posts: 1298; Member since: Mar 15, 2018

I honestly cannot disagree with this entire conversation (and I disagree with some of you guys quite a few times). I think complacency has been hurting Apple for the past few years.

18. shm224

Posts: 295; Member since: Mar 19, 2015

Apple's current on-going is nothing like previous licensing dispute. Apple going all out on this lawsuit and their business relationship won't be same. I'm pretty sure Qualcomm won't willy-nilly acquiesced to Apple's terms anymore.

5. D34ever

Posts: 234; Member since: Jul 14, 2018

Haha. I love it. I hope the Chinese market keeps going south for Apple as well. Serves them right, greedy money grubbing bastards.

7. sissy246

Posts: 7124; Member since: Mar 04, 2015

About time you tell apple no deal, get lost. But to be real, its probably not the best choice business wise.

22. oldskool50 unregistered

Why can't it be? If Apple signs a deal with QC and agreed to pay a certain amount and don't, QC is stuck with hardware that only can work in Apple products. If Apple doesn't pay, then whatever cost QC incurs for making the tech, is all lost of Apple doesn't pay because it can't be used with any other OEM's. Qualcomm's has lost nearly $10B on Apple just over the modem alone. After someone stiffed you for that kind of money, you think it worth the risk again? Think about it. if you loan a friend $10,000 and they stiff you, and you know they have the money to pay you and they agreed to pay you; would you lone them money again of any amount?

8. Doogie203

Posts: 16; Member since: Jun 08, 2016

Great article

9. darkkjedii

Posts: 31366; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Hey Leo MC, and VeMxynom. This article (in a PC way), says Intel modems suck. Behind the curve my ass lol, that crap is trash. "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."

10. Vancetastic

Posts: 1617; Member since: May 17, 2017

Uh oh...

11. darkkjedii

Posts: 31366; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

It's so super obvious man. Intel just isn't cutting it in the iPhone. Apple knows this, and is looking elsewhere.

23. oldskool50 unregistered

But Apple knew Intel's modem was not ready. They did all this just to stiff Qualcomm. And for that Apple is gonna suffer. I hope none of them sell them anything. And unlike the title claims, Samsung did not stiff Apple. 5G is new tech. Samsung barely has enough to cover the Galaxy S10 they plan to use it in. Samsung isn't stiffing Apple on purpose, like PA is trying to play it. And the fact is, even if Samsung was actually purposely stiffing Apple, then so what! They deserve it for what they have done and are doing to Qualcomm, Samsung and others. QC has already shown that Intel's 5G modem is using some stolen IP from QC. Which means when Apple got a modem sample from QC for testing, they gave it to Intel who reversed engineered it. This is not the first time Apple has used samples and stole someone's tech.

13. cheetah2k

Posts: 2275; Member since: Jan 16, 2011

Apple will eventually poo in Intel's bed. They always do it. Its just a matter of time when no one will supply Apple with any of the good gear... HAHAHAHAHA!

19. shm224

Posts: 295; Member since: Mar 19, 2015

My understanding is that Intel is hardly making any money from this.

24. oldskool50 unregistered

That's right! They are not. Because the modem was not ready for prime time and both companies knew this, so Apple got a low price. Intel will make zero profit on the modem https://9to5mac.com/2018/10/01/iphone-xs-lte-performance-tests/ Shows Intel modem is at the bottom of the gene pool. It is literally garbage. so much for the fans claim that Apple makes sure everything is perfect.

12. cheetah2k

Posts: 2275; Member since: Jan 16, 2011

Apple did a great big POOO in the Samsung/Qualcomm bed... Now they have to sleep in it.. Sucked in

14. darkkjedii

Posts: 31366; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Yep yep.

16. vikingsfootball09

Posts: 112; Member since: Oct 02, 2013

dont work with apple...or else they will find something to take you to court lol

20. shm224

Posts: 295; Member since: Mar 19, 2015

>Samsung, it turns out, is simply unable to churn out 5G modems in the quality and quantity that Apple would demand, or so it claims. Samsung's capacity is underutilitized LOL. Why would Samsung offer their latest and greatest product for a customer who make onerous demands and is most likely backstab / trick you into unfavorable business terms or legal troubles?

25. oldskool50 unregistered

Or they just refuse to pay.

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