Apple’s road to 5G connectivity was far from smooth. While Samsung released its first 5G device in 2019, Apple’s first 5G phone came in the fall of 2020. This delay stemmed from a complex web of legal battles with Qualcomm, a major supplier of 5G modem chips. Initially, Apple partnered with Intel to develop these chips, but the collaboration proved unsuccessful.
This led Apple to rekindle its relationship with Qualcomm. Despite several attempts to make its own 5G modem chips, Apple’s efforts were hampered by technical challenges and the sheer complexity of the task. The Cupertino company extended its partnership recently with Qualcomm until 2026. That’s how the Apple-Qualcomm relationship of 5G modem chips began.
Apple tried its best to make in-house 5G modem chips but failed miserably
Amid business with Qualcomm, Apple had been working to make modem chips. It acquired most of Intel’s smartphone modem chip business for $1 billion. The deal came with 2,200 Intel geniuses and over 17,000 patents. Apple planned to develop 5G modem chips for the iPhone 15 series, but it faced setbacks again. And, like always, Qualcomm came to the rescue. Hence, the current iPhone 15 line employs the Snapdragon X70 5G modem.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple almost built its 5G modem chips. However, it ate up nearly half the internal space of the iPhone. It was also too slow and would overheat. As much as everyone in the tech world knows, Tim Cook hates to hear “overheating.” That’s why the company is planning to replace copper with graphene in the next iPhone 16 line. It also hints that the iPhone 16 line could be more expensive than its predecessors.
Apple’s quest for independent 5G modem chip development has hit a temporary setback. It has extended its partnership with Qualcomm to supply 5G modem chips for iPhones until 2026. This means that Apple has until the iPhone 19 in 2027 to bring its in-house 5G modem chip. If that doesn’t happen, Apple is likely to turn back to Qualcomm for its 5G needs. This is the current state of Apple’s 5G chipset story.
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