In one of the least surprising stories of the year, Reuters has reported that Apple is now working on developing its own 5G modems. Considering Apple’s ongoing and increasingly ugly legal showdowns with Qualcomm and their dramatic rise as a force in the world of chip design and optimization, this is an obvious and expected move.
According to Reuters, Apple has been working on 5G modem technology before now, but the early design efforts were being handled by their supply chain unit. Development of a 5G modem will now be handled by Apple’s in-house hardware group, which is also responsible for the A Series processors that currently lap most of the smartphone field.
Apple’s 5G modem effort is now being headed up by Johnny Srouji, their Senior VP of Hardware Technologies. This is the same man who joined Apple in 2008 and spearheaded the original A Series development. In other words, the development of this new modem is now being handled at the highest levels at Apple, showing exactly how important this is to the company.
The big unknown is just how far Apple has come in this development. Competitors such as Samsung and Huawei make their own modems, but they have already been at this a long time and are allied with Qualcomm through licensing agreements. Apple does not have those luxuries, or the luxury of time. They are at odds with Qualcomm and will need to approach development in such a way that they don’t incur additional legal problems with them by violating their patents. A tall task, indeed.
Developing a new modem that is up to the task of handling mobile communication for the iPhone, iPad and Watch is a massive undertaking. Apple can’t afford for this project to drag out for years and years, but they also can’t risk putting a substandard modem in their most important products. The Intel modems they are using now are sufficient, but still not as good as Qualcomm’s. During recent court proceedings, it became known that Apple has investigated using 5G modems from Samsung or MediaTek to bridge the gap. This is a strong indication that it may take Apple a few years to roll out their own.
This effort is going to cost Apple hundreds of millions of dollars and an unknown amount of time, but in the end, it will be worth it. The hands they are putting the project in proves that they are well aware of this. As with its A Series processors, when Apple is done, it will control even more of its own destiny and eventually, even save money. The way the world of technology is going, self-sufficiency is key for Apple.