According to a report from Reuters, Apple is considering using either Samsung or MediaTek to supply 5G modems for their 2019 iPhones. You read that right. Apple is considering moving to the latest network technology as soon as it rolls out. This is something that Apple has never done, even sticking with the anemic 2G EDGE instead of going with 3G right off the bat. They later waited an extra year before going to LTE. Is Apple about to change course?
This is what you call taking a soundbyte and running wild with it. Out of context, the comments that lead to this article do make it sound like Apple is strongly considering using 5G in this year’s iPhone. However, just consider the source of these comments. They were made by Apple Supply Chain Executive Tony Blevins in the FTC’s trial against Qualcomm for anti-competitive practices. Yeah, the same Qualcomm that Apple is currently battling around the globe. The company that has managed to get some iPhone sales blocked in China and Germany. The one that Apple has every reason in the world to strike back against.
Apple may actually be considering 5G this year, but it would be incredibly out of character for them. Their past reasoning on this subject has been very sound and still applies today. The early chips for any new network technologies are notorious for being hot-running power hogs. Apple has always preferred experience to new, wizz-bang features, so I won’t believe Apple will use 5G early unless Phil Schiller walks on stage and says it.
So why would an Apple executive say this during a trial? Because it strengthens their argument that Qualcomm has forced them into a difficult situation because they won’t reasonably license their patents. The claim is that they don’t want to move to using Samsung for 5G chips, but they are now forced to consider going that route. Apple’s claim is that they were only looking for multiple suppliers when they added Intel as a modem provider a few years ago. Qualcomm responded by slapping them with much higher price tags. Apple ended up going all Intel this year, in response. Qualcomm penalizing Apple for moving away from an exclusive supplier relationship helps to make the FTC’s case that Qualcomm is using their IP to dominate the network chip business.
So, did Apple have discussions with Samsung and MediaTek about 5G modems? I’m sure they did. Are they serious about it? I highly doubt it. Apple may be serious about using the companies for 5G in the future (at least until they are ready to make their own), but only if they have to. What Apple really wants to do here is to give the FTC a stick to beat Qualcomm over the head with. In turn, if the FTC wins this case, it will hugely benefit Apple in their ongoing fights with Qualcomm.
Make no mistake, the battle with Qualcomm is what these claims are all about. This move is part of Apple’s ongoing quest to force the chip maker to license patents at a reasonable rate, even if Apple isn’t buying chips from them. They want FRAND patent licensing, which used to be forced on essential technologies for computing devices, to finally apply to Qualcomm. Long term, and maybe as soon as next year, you can bet that Apple wants to make their own 5G chips. They will have to license patents from Qualcomm and others to do that. This is all about Apple coming out on top in their battles with Qualcomm and getting the best deal when that day comes.