Development of cellular modems is not easy. At the start of the 5G, there are only a handful of companies that can design 5G modems, and even players who are as big as Intel have struggled with engineering and finance. Teams of patented innovations combine with conceptual and physical barriers to making use of others' parts far more convenient than trying to make your own.
That's why Apple folded into its two-year global legal battle against 5G chipmaker Qualcomm, and why almost every other 5G device maker uses Qualcomm's parts. But while Apple wants to use Qualcomm's chips for the foreseeable future, it also develops its own 5G modem, with a latest reported release date of 2025.
Apple's reasoning is not as simple as it may seem. Sure, the company doesn't prefer to buy Qualcomm chips, but it's not going to save money and make its own 5G modems. Modem hiring and R&D alone will cost it a small fortune, which will be offset by the need to continue paying patent licensing fees to Qualcomm, Nokia, and all other companies that have contributed to mobile technology. In other words, the iPhone prices will not suddenly fall in 2025 just because they have Apple modems inside.
This feature can be explained in part by Apple's story of wanting to control the key elements of the products ̵
The modems are different from monitors, so they can be combined with other parts inside units to achieve size and power reductions under ideal conditions. An A-series processor can think of holding the CPU, GPU, and modem instead of requiring two or three chips, which means that more internal space is released for a battery, cameras, hinge or other components. Furthermore, an energy-efficient company like Apple can optimize all the bugs in the modem with the CPU teeth, say nothing about constructing the modem from scratch to include custom features and omit unnecessary.
I continue to use the word "Know" because this is much more difficult than it sounds, especially when 5G and bleeding edge chip production are added to the mix. In addition to the challenge of actually building a functioning 5G modem, Apple would have to sit right next to the CPU and GPU cores without signal interference. The company will also hope to build the modem by means of which chip production process the CPU and GPU cores are on in 2025 – maybe 2.5 nanometers. At that level of miniaturization, Apple's first 5G chips will have about 25% the size and power consumption of those who will be released next year.
Apple's chipmaking team is extremely impressive, and the portable A12X Bionic series released last year shows it's ready to challenge Intel and Qualcomm chips in raw CPU and GPU performance. Furthermore, a decade of used iPhones has allowed Apple to push its own processors into something as small as an Apple Watch, leaving room for another company's modem. But by 2025, an Apple-developed 5G modem will not only enable a thinner iPhone or Apple Watch; The next steps in the reduction and integration of chip prints will allow a combined processor to fit into AR glasses and other devices without significantly increasing the weight or size.
It is Apple's end game with modem technology: the ability to produce smaller, lighter mobile devices that people will feel more comfortable wearing or using everywhere. Ideally, it would be desirable to do so exclusively, but it will not be alone in trying. Qualcomm is already building 4G modems directly into its latest Snapdragon chips, and all the central chip players – including rivals such as Samsung and Huawei – are working on fully integrated 5G system-on-chip solutions. Based on information available, all these companies will likely succeed before Apple publishes its first 5G modem in any form.
A 2025 rollout for an Apple-developed modem seems far away. But there is every reason to believe that the company will need many years of development in order to obtain its current supplier, even less eclipse – a challenge Intel could not prevent with its 4G chips. By 2025, Qualcomm and others will already be in the earliest stages of prototyping 6G technology, which Apple's investments in 5G will hopefully allow as an inventor and developer, not just a customer.