Samsung may be first with a true 5G chipset, while Apple still shops for modem engineers

Samsung may be first with a true 5G chipset, while Apple still shops for modem engineers
Given that the Galaxy Note 10 is expected to come in no less than four different versions, separated by screen sizes and 5G availability, it's obvious that Qualcomm will be keeping its X50 and X55 modems separate from its Snapdragon chipsets for a good while still. 

Even the next-gen Snapdragon 865 processor that is supposed to go into 2020 spring chickens like the Galaxy S11, is said to still launch in two versions - with and without 5G connectivity - skipping on the integration part. Thus, the earliest we may see a true 5G chipset with an integrated Qualcomm modem may be as far off as Apple's 2020 iPhones.

Samsung plans on being first with a real 5G chipset


Samsung, however, is preparing to take advantage of that limbo, reports Korean media today, and is speeding up the development of the first 5G system chip on the market, likely within the Exynos line of processors. The head of Samsung's LSI division that develops Exynos tipped today that "Samsung has commercialized 5G modem chipsets last August... we plan to launch 5G mobile SoC soon," during Korea's ongoing TechWeek conference.

How soon? Well, probably by the end of the year, which would put it ahead of the competition like Qualcomm or MediaTek that also has integrated chipsets in the works. With Huawei largely out of the picture due to the ongoing trade war between US and China, Samsung may swoop in to capitalize on the delay that is happening with its mobile chip-making competition.

The reason we have extra "Pro" or "5G" versions of each and every major handset this year, is because the current generation of 5G modem and antenna kits come separate from the system-on-a-chip (SoC) that makes the phones tick. Those extra components, albeit very small, still need extra space, cooling, interference isolation and so on, to the point where the Pro models are usually bulkier, heavier, with larger batteries and with much higher pricing than their 4G-capable counterparts. 

Think Galaxy S10 and S10 5G, for instance, the 7 Pro and Pro 5G, or even the LG G8 and V50. They all come with extra girth and 20-30% higher prices compared to the base models, and the lack of true integrated 5G SoC may be to blame. Well, Samsung is planning to change all that, and we can't wait to see what it has in store for the mysterious flagship that it is preparing to release later this year - no, not the Note 10, but something unique akin to the Galaxy Fold, if the rumors hold water in the end.


Apple plans on building a 5G chipset at some distant point


While Apple settled its patent and royalties dispute with Qualcomm, and the companies entered a multi-year wireless modem supply arrangement, the writing is on the wall. There's plenty of bad blood between the companies, and Apple wouldn't want to be left behind again due to the squabbles with Qualacomm again. Given that Huawei's mobile future is cloudy, Apple has to either diversify with the archenemy Samsung which already supplies too many components in an iPhone, or go it alone.

In fact, that last route may be exactly what may have prompted Apple to bid for the assets of Infineon. They are a German wireless modem designer that got acquired by Intel for $1.6 billion a few years back with the goal to help develop Intel-branded 4G and 5G modems. Apple had a short love affair with Intel on said modems during its Qualcomm penalty box period, but when the legal dust settled, Intel gave up on the 5G modem development idea altogether as it was about to lose its only big customer for it. According to The Information:


What Apple would actually be going after in an eventual Infineon deal would be the Germans' patent portfolio and its modem engineers. Those would be enough to set a dedicated 5G modem division within Apple, and, given the company's considerable resources, it might very well succeed in weaning itself off its dependence on Qualcomm or other modem players at some point. 

Creating a 5G chip from scratch is a daunting task, however, much more so than developing a mobile chipset. If Apple manages to snatch Infineon, and pack its own 5G modem with its A-series processors that would be a dream come true for it, but it's not happening in the foreseeable future.

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13 Comments

1. Tech-shake

Posts: 211; Member since: Nov 14, 2016

AMD derived GPU, and integrated 5G. The next Exynos chip is going to be good!

2. 7thlvl

Posts: 47; Member since: Dec 09, 2018

That would be nice I'd like to see it start competing with the snapdragon.

3. darkkjedii

Posts: 30830; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Just go Qualcomm Apple...gee friggin wizz

4. cncrim

Posts: 1571; Member since: Aug 15, 2011

5G is promising and great but i dont think it ready for everyone in 4-5 years, infrastructure need time and money. The 5G wave length probably a bottle neck.

5. baldilocks

Posts: 1449; Member since: Dec 14, 2008

5G reaches about 1% of the population. Tell me why it’s needed right now??

7. Macready

Posts: 1811; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

Most people use their phones more than 2 years so if you're in the market for one this year, you want a future proof phone. 5G is rolling out in many cities this year already and not everyone loves in the boonies. Oh and just to be clear, it's not just about higher max speeds, but much higher average speeds and much lower latency.

8. TheOracle1

Posts: 2028; Member since: May 04, 2015

That kool-aid must taste good to you. I hope more people think like that and leave the legacy LTE-A 4x4 MIMO to us dummies because that's going to be what we get 90% of the time for the next 5 years.

10. Macready

Posts: 1811; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

We as you in the boonies? 5G is already rolling out in my city and again, buy a phone now, stuck with old tech 3 years from now when 5G is fully mainstream here... No thanks. But I know some still prefer horses over cars too, nothing wrong with that.

11. TheOracle1

Posts: 2028; Member since: May 04, 2015

I'm referring to coverage and the extortionate prices they're asking for 5G handsets. It's great it's already in your city but travel internationally like I do and your 5G phone will be useless in most places.

12. Macready

Posts: 1811; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

Holding dual citizenship myself, I travel a lot too, in the US, Europe and Asia. Most major European countries are starting 5G rollout this summer as well, which will benefit phones supporting 5G like the S10 5G. But I'm willing to bet also the majority of higher end Android phones released before the end of the year. And within 2 to 3 years, most larger cities will give you those benefits. It's similar to the discussion about LTE or HSPA+. I never regretted future proofing when I got my S2 supporting both, even when at first, there was little benefit to be found.

9. iushnt

Posts: 3060; Member since: Feb 06, 2013

@baldilocks so that it can get to that 1% of the population as you said. It has to start somewhere:

6. Rocket

Posts: 626; Member since: Feb 24, 2014

I was excited about 4g 10 years ago, 10 years later I dont give a dime about 5g.

13. oldskool50

Posts: 712; Member since: Mar 29, 2019

If Samsung can eventually use its own chipset for any phone, regardless of region or carrier; and then not have to use Qualcomm anymore; it could be a good move and they can then seriously consider dropping Android eventually too. If Samsung is first, then by the time QC and Apple get it going, Samsung will already have established their own market. This could be a big win for them. Because by the time Apple makes their own 5G modem, if it ever happens, we will be moving on to 6G and beyond.

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