5G Apple iPhone likely to appear in 2020 after comment from Intel
With several Android manufacturers releasing 5G enabled phones this year (and technically the Moto Z3 with the 5G Moto Mod is the first), Apple iPhone users might wonder when they will have the opportunity to buy a 5G iPhone. We don't expect it to happen this year, and one analyst said earlier this month that it won't happen next year either. Timothy Arcuri, who hangs his hat at the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS), believes that Intel won't have its 5G modem chip available in time for Apple to introduce a 5G phone in 2020.
Sure, Apple could turn to Qualcomm to provide it 5G modem chips, but the two firms have been battling each other in court over numerous issues ranging from patent infringement to anti-trust violations. A new trial will start soon in San Diego with Apple and its contract manufacturers seeking billions of dollars from the chip maker. Besides, Qualcomm reportedly refused to sell its 4G LTE modem chips to Apple for the iPhone XS and iPhone XR.
According to Fast Company (via BGR), those familiar with the situation say that Intel has been missing deadlines as it develops the XMM 8160 5G modem chip. In order for Apple to unveil a 5G iPhone next September, Intel would have to deliver sample parts to Cupertino early this summer and a final version of the chip's design by early next year. But Intel says that it is fully capable of delivering its 5G modem chip to Apple in time for a 5G iPhone to be launched in 2020.
Last November, Intel said that it expected to start shipping the XMM 8160 5G modem chip during the second half of this year, and it would appear as though no changes have been made to those plans. In a statement emailed to Fast Company, Intel wrote, "As we said in November 2018, Intel plans to support customer device launches in 2020 with its XMM 8160 5G multimode modem."
Samsung, MediaTek would be unable to fulfill Apple's order for the 5G modems it needs for 2020
From 2011-2015, Apple used only Qualcomm modem chips for the iPhone. In 2016 and 2017, both Qualcomm and Intel supplied Apple with modem chips for the iPhone. Last year, with Apple and Qualcomm suing each other, Apple stuck with Intel for the part and expects to do the same this year. Apple is known to be a rather demanding customer (Intel has had three project managers handle its modem business with Apple thus far), and the profits from selling Apple these chips is not overwhelming. But Intel needs the revenue to justify the expense of building 10nm and 7nm fabrication platforms in order to keep up with TSMC. The Intel 7560 modem chips used on the 2018 iPhone models were manufactured using the 14nm process. This means that newer modem chips will contain more transistors than older versions, allowing them to have improved performance and consume less power. But this can also backfire as far as Intel is concerned. As part of its deal with Intel, Apple gets to be first in line to have its chips roll off the assembly line. That means other chip orders that might be more profitable to Intel must wait until Apple's order is completed.
Other chip makers like Samsung and MediaTek are apparently not being considered. UBS' Arcuri says that if Intel's chip isn't ready for next year as he believes, neither company would be able to fulfill the order in time to deliver the goods for 2020. Meanwhile, rumors that Apple is designing its own 5G modem chips are apparently true. The company reportedly has 1,000 to 1,200 engineers developing such a component. Additionally, Apple has allegedly hired RF engineers from both Qualcomm and Intel who are said to be toiling away in San Diego. Any modem chip designed by Apple would have to be manufactured by a company with production capabilities like TSMC or Samsung. A self-designed 5G modem chip for the iPhone would probably not be found on the device until 2021 at the earliest.