Photo: Apple
Photo: Apple

Apple is apparently planning on adopting its own custom designed 5G modems for its iPhones. These in house 5G baseband chips might be seen in iPhones as early as 2023, as per a known analyst.

iPhone‌ will adopt Apple's own design of 5G baseband chips in 2023

Photo: iPhone 12 Apple
Photo: iPhone 12 Apple

Noted tech analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has made another claim regarding Apple’s upcoming iPhones. In an investor’s note seen by MacRumors, he claimed that Apple would launch the 2023 iPhones with its own 5G cellular modem inside it. He predicts that “the ‌iPhone‌ will adopt Apple's own design of 5G baseband chips in 2023 at the earliest”. 2023 is quite far away, and considering how fast things change in the world of technology, it seems farther still. But if this prediction happens to be true, then Apple would have taken another step towards self-reliance with it ditching the Qualcomm 5G baseband chips for its own, as it did with the Intel chips, putting its own M1 chips inside the MacBooks, the iMacs and the new 2021 iPad Pro lineup.

That Apple is working on its own 5G modem is not an entirely fresh piece of rumour and it has been reported earlier also.

Kuo says that with Apple building its own 5G baseband chips, the competitive pressure is set to build, with Qualcomm and MediaTek having less bargaining power over brands. “As Android sales in the high-end 5G phone market are sluggish, Qualcomm will be forced to compete for more orders in the low-end market to compensate for Apple's order loss. When the supply constraints improve, MediaTek and Qualcomm will have less bargaining power over brands, resulting in significantly higher competitive pressure in the mid to low- end market”, so predicts Kuo in his note.

What to expect

The tech analyst earlier claimed that Apple will launch the sixth-generation iPad mini in the second half of 2021. Apple didn’t announce the iPad mini during the Spring Loaded event, only focussing on the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro and the iMacs, all powered by the tech giant’s own M1 chip. This led to the speculation that perhaps Apple was considering launching the iPad mini later in the first half of 2021. But Kuo’s claim has quashed these rumours, predicting the launch to be deferred to the second half. The upcoming iPad mini is expected to come with an 8.4-inch display and be powered by the M1 chip. Apple last refreshed the iPad mini lineup with the iPad mini 5 in March 2019.

The new in house developed 5G modems could offer faster speeds, lowered latency, and other improvements over Intel or even Qualcomm modems, although it is still too early to offer any concrete statements. Furthermore, the company has reportedly been working on its self developed modems since early 2020.

2023 iPhone could launch Apple’s huge Qualcomm 5G modem snub

With the company having acquired the remnants of Intel’s 5G modem business, Apple execs have been clear internally that the future of its products includes homegrown cellular tech. Leaked details from a town hall meeting at Cupertino saw the project described as the next “key strategic transition,” much in the same way that shifting to in-house SoC designs – first for iOS devices, then more recently for macOS – has given Apple much more control over its hardware and software.

Photo: Slashgear
Photo: Slashgear

What wasn’t clear was just how rapidly Apple thought it could oust Qualcomm’s modems. The Snapdragon X55 is used in the iPhone 12, and it was expected that the X60 would feature in the 2021 iPhone line-up, with the 2022 iPhone using the X65 and then the 2023 iPhone shifting to what’s expected to be called the Snapdragon X70. A new report, however, suggests that may not in fact be the case.

A note to investors from Barclays analysts Blayne Curtis and Thomas O’Malley, MacRumors reports, claims the Apple 5G modem will be ready in time for 2023’s iPhones. It tipped TSMC as the likely manufacturer, with nods to Broadcom and Qorvo as likely beneficiaries from Qualcomm being marginalized.

If true, it’s an aggressive roadmap, though previous leaks have suggested Apple aims to have the modems ready by 2022. Given the lead time involved in having chipsets prepared ahead of device design finalization and manufacturing beginning, though, that seems fairly tenuous. Apple could, of course, opt for a slightly less high-profile launch of its first designs.

Rather than debuting the in-house 5G modems in its flagship iPhone range, the company could opt to do so in other products such as MacBooks. That would address a longstanding request from macOS users for integrated cellular connectivity in their laptops, as well as presumably being a smaller audience of buyers to satisfy. Apple could also benefit from slightly more accommodating factors around power consumption, size, and antenna placement in the larger form-factor of a MacBook, and with its bigger battery than would be found in an iPhone.

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