December 14, 2018
Several new Apple job listings give the strong impression that the Silicon Valley company is getting ready to make its own modem, in direct competition with Qualcomm. The posted job listings are for engineers that can design and develop a layer 1 cellular PHY chip, which implies physical networking hardware. Two other job posts are for cellular modem systems architects, one for Santa Clara and the second for San Diego, where Qualcomm is headquartered. Apple also posted a job opening in San Diego for RF design engineers.
The Verge reports that, according to sources, “Apple is not only potentially working to develop its own modem, but is in fact specifically targeting it for use in future iPhones, with the company looking to leave longtime partner Intel behind in favor of its own, in-house solution.” (Apple has also used Qualcomm modems, but hasn’t used that company’s products since 2017 when it sued Qualcomm over anti-competitive prices.)
Apple’s 5G iPhone, now slated for a 2020 release, will likely still use Intel’s 5G modem, since “it’ll take at least a few years before it’ll actually be ready to ship hardware.”
If Apple does indeed make its own in-house developed modem, it would have “big ramifications for the mobile space, particularly for Qualcomm and Intel, two of the biggest modem suppliers in the world.” Although Apple has abandoned Qualcomm chips “in favor of only using Intel modems for the iPhone XS and XR,” the problem is that Intel “simply hasn’t been keeping up performance-wise compared to Qualcomm’s modems.”
That was verified by “a recent analysis of Ookla speed tests …[that] found that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 offered dramatically better speeds than devices with Intel modems.” The results, “admittedly, collected from Ookla by Qualcomm,” showed 40 percent faster download speeds and 20 percent faster uploads for Qualcomm modems vs. Intel’s.
By building its own modems, Apple is following in the steps of Samsung and Huawei, which “also use their own in-house modem and processor stacks for a cohesive hardware experience, albeit in phones that are only available in the U.S. through imports, for now.” It would also be building on its previous success building its own mobile processors for iPhones and iPads.