Apple's personnel move might help it design its own modem chips for the iPhone

Apple's personnel move might help it design its own modem chips for the iPhone
Apple's settlement with Qualcomm back in April finally gave the company a source of 5G modem chips that it could rely on. After paying the chip maker a reported $4.5 billion, Apple received a six-year licensing deal (with options for an additional two years) and a multi-year chip agreement. But the rumors about Apple building its own 5G modem chip persist, even after it shook hands with Qualcomm. As part of the deal, the lawsuits each company filed against the other were dismissed.

But Qualcomm can't feel like it is on steady ground with Apple. Back in February, the latter hired Umashankar Thyagarajan who was the head of Intel's 5G mobile technology at the time. He also was in charge of the group at Intel that built the 4G LTE modem chips currently used inside the iPhone. And today, Bloomberg reports that back in May, Apple filled an opening it had for a chip architect by hiring Mike Filippo; Filippo had been one of ARM Holdings' top engineers. While working for the U.K. based chip designer (which is owned by Japan's SoftBank Group), Filippo helped design the chips used in most smartphones and tablets today. Before working at ARM, he was employed by AMD and Intel. His LinkedIn profile confirms that he joined Apple in May.

Apple itself lost a key member of its chip making team when Gerald Williams III left the company earlier this year. He was the lead architect designing chips for the iPhone and iPad. These designs are used by TSMC to manufacture Apple's "A" series SoCs and employ ARM's technology, which is why hiring Filippo (ostensibly to replace Williams) is a good catch for the gang in Cupertino.

Will Apple buy Intel's smartphone modem business?


With Apple expected to release its first 5G iPhone next year, the company's legal issues with Qualcomm appeared to be a huge roadblock. Intel was working feverishly to develop its XMM 8160 5G modem chip; this past April Intel said that it was on track to ship these chips to Apple in time to be included inside the first 5G iPhone rumored to be released next year. But Apple still wasn't sold, and it gave the tech giant the incentive to make the deal with Qualcomm.


Before Apple and Qualcomm were on speaking terms again, Apple looked around for another supplier. During the FTC v. Qualcomm trial earlier this year, Apple supply chain executive Tony Blevins testified that the company spoke with Samsung and MediaTek about purchasing their 5G modem chips. Had Apple and Qualcomm not reached an agreement, it is very likely that the 2020 5G iPhone would be packing Intel's modem chip. Intel was developing the chip mostly for Apple's benefit, and the very same day that the settlement was announced, Intel said that it was quitting the mobile 5G modem chip business. And today a new report says that Intel had decided to auction off all of its intellectual property related to wireless connectivity. It will still ship mobile 4G LTE modem chips after all Apple still remains a big customer. But in addition to selling its IP, it will seek a buyer for the entire smartphone modem business.

With Intel exiting the wireless connectivity business, Apple naturally comes to mind as a potential buyer. Earlier this month, a published rumor said that Apple was going to buy Intel's smartphone modem business headquartered in Germany. A purchase like this would include a number of engineers and certainly, make things easier for Apple to design its own 5G modem chip. But keep one thing in mind; even if Apple does develop its own wireless 5G connectivity chip, we probably won't see it in an iPhone until 2025 at the earliest. Until then, Apple will no doubt call on Qualcomm to supply this critical part for the 5G iPhone.

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13 Comments

1. darkkjedii

Posts: 31748; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

You went back to Qualcomm Apple, now be smart and stay there.

3. lyndon420

Posts: 6914; Member since: Jul 11, 2012

Apple will most likely be buying Intel...at least that is what PA wants us to think. And besides...apple needs to start doing more things for themselves, instead of relying on others to do it for them. Right now it's modems, and next it's screens...apple must loath having to rely on Samsung so much.

13. sgodsell

Posts: 7605; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Intel still has to pay Qualcomm for each 4G modem chips they make for Apple, or anyone else. Nevermind 5G modems, which Intel will have to pay Qualcomm again for their 5G modem patents, but some other OEMs for their 5G patents as well. Buying Intel's modem chip business in the long run will not help Apple. Besides if Apple really wants to have their own 5G modems. Then it would be in Apple's best interest to integrate a 5G modem as part of Apple's Ax SoCs. Just like Qualcomm is doing with their current Snapdragon 855, and 865 SoCs. Qualcomm are embedding their modem technology inside their flagship SoCs.

2. oldskool50 unregistered

If Apple does end up producing their own modem, its gonna cost them more to do so vs buying it from Qualcomm. Qualcomm can give better volume pricing kn the fact they are making this part for several OEMs l, not just Apple. So Apple paying, $9 a chip is cheap for only buying 200M or so of them. For Apple to produce those same amount of chips or more since they could also put them in their cellular iPads and even the Mac, it will stop cost them more to produce it vs buying it 3rd party. Who you think Apple is gonna make pay for that? Buying Intel modem fab would I think be dumping when you consider Intel couldn't even make their own modem. Apple who has never made one would have to take the word of engineers that failed on a 4G modem? I can't wait. I guarantee, Apple very first iPhone with even their own modem, will have connection problems, just like they did using Intel and Qualcomms modems too. Intels modem was broken and Apple knew it and used it anyways, just to try to get at Qualcomm and they failed miserably and had to go crawlimg back. Just like Jobs did to Adobe, 3Com, Microsoft, Samsung and many others. So sad Apple has changed for the worse. Who says money doesn't changed people. They didn't act like this when they didn't have money.

4. monkeyb

Posts: 414; Member since: Jan 17, 2018

Good. Its already exciting that they are working on making their own Macbook processors. Im sure their modems will be as amazing as their A series chips. Hope they purchase the IP from Intel to avoid lawsuits down the road.

5. lyndon420

Posts: 6914; Member since: Jul 11, 2012

Avoid lawsuits?? lol...Apple practically invented the term when they figured they owned the rights to a rectangular device with rounded corners. Meh....so sad...so apple ;)

7. monkeyb

Posts: 414; Member since: Jan 17, 2018

Intel does have all IP needed to make the modems they were making. So I am confused with your confusion in this regard. What is sad?

12. sgodsell

Posts: 7605; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Intel does not have all the patents needed to make the modems they will make. Intel still has to pay Qualcomm. Plus with 5G modems, Intel has to pay Qualcomm, but some other 5G patent holders. Which certainly isn't Apple. At the end of the day if Apple wants to make it's own modem chips, then Apple has to pay Qualcomm, and some other 5G patent holders, period.

17. monkeyb

Posts: 414; Member since: Jan 17, 2018

For educational purposes: - please show proof that Intel was paying QC for LTE. - And also proof that everyone needs to pay QC for 5G.

23. sgodsell

Posts: 7605; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

You know what is really sad is you ask for proof, yet you could do a web search yourself,and see how many patents Qualcomm has for 3G, 4G, and 5G. Qualcomm even has equipment for OEMs to test end to end for 5G, and it has been available since the beginning of 2018. Who else has been supplying 5G equipment since the beginning of 2018? Just in case you forgot this is the middle of 2019. Do yourself a favor, check the web next time. That way you won't look ignorant to the public.

26. monkeyb

Posts: 414; Member since: Jan 17, 2018

Lol. Are you serious. It would have taken you a minute to show me a proof and prove me wrong if they were available all over the internet. I did not try to be disrespectful. In fact I actually tried to search for what you said. And there was not even a single article I found. So instead of calling me ignorant for asking you a meaningful question, take your hatred of Apple elsewhere. Everything you typed is trying to prove yourself what you think is correct. Guess what, you have not just spewed hatred and not given any proof. After all this, maybe just maybe, Intel is paying QC. It could be true but without proof you are the one who sounds ignorant.

27. sgodsell

Posts: 7605; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Maybe you should go back to school and learn how to search, because you said their isn't a single article that you could find on this? Yeah, right. No one believe you, especially a monkey. But then again I would expect a monkey to have problems using the internet, because monkeys are not that intelligent.

28. monkeyb

Posts: 414; Member since: Jan 17, 2018

lol again. Dude no need to make personal comments. When did I ask anyone to believe me, All I said was I could not find any article. There is no need to get personal about tech :).

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