Bad news Qualcomm. Team up with TSMC will see Apple utilise its own 5G modems for future iPhones, according to media report
Apple will finally shake off its uneasy supplier relationship with Qualcomm and its 5G modems in its iPhones handsets, it is being reported.
According to a report in Asia Nikkei, Apple will from 2023 switch to its own iPhone 5G modem design, and the 4nm chips will be built by long serving partner TSMC.
The move is not unexpected. Apple has had a troubled history with iPhone modems, and in July 2019 it acquired Intel’s mobile modem business for $1 billion in an effort to set its own destiny for this vital component.
Modem bust up
The acquisition of Intel’s modem business gave Apple the necessary tools to design its own modems for iPhone devices to connect to 5G networks.
The Intel acquisition also signaled the gradual ending of an intensively uncomfortable relationship between Apple and Qualcomm.
Apple was forced to used Intel modems in its iPhones for a time, after a huge royalty payment bust up between Apple and Qualcomm in 2018.
In its lawsuit Qualcomm alleged Apple had developed an “intricate plan” to steal proprietary information and share it with Intel and others over a period of several years, in order to cut its own costs.
Apple in turn accused Qualcomm of abusing its market dominance, and said the fees Qualcomm charged were unfair.
At the same time Apple was never really happy with Intel (or maybe just its pricing), and in July 2018 Apple was reportedly considering moving away from using Intel’s 5G modems in future iPhone handsets.
Apple was also reportedly losing confidence in Intel’s ability to hit its deadline for the 5G modems (Apple it should be remembered was very late delivering a 5G compatible iPhone to market).
This lack of faith in Intel resulted in Apple surprising many in April 2019, when it kissed and made up with Qualcomm, and halted all legal action between the two.
That settlement saw Apple agreeing to make an undisclosed payment to Qualcomm, and to use Qualcomm’s modem chips going forward.
But Apple did not forget, and had other long-term plans.
Now according to the Asia Nikkei report, Apple plans to adopt TSMC’s 4-nanometer chip production technology to mass produce its first in-house 5G modem chip, four people familiar with the matter said.
They added that Apple is also developing its own radio frequency and millimeter wave components to complement the modem.
Apple is also working on its own power management chip specifically for the modem, two people briefed on the matter said.
All of these components have until now, been supplied by Qualcomm.
TSMC is a long standing Apple supplier, and makes all iPhone A-series processors and M1 systems-on-chip for Mac computers.
According to Nikkei, there are hundreds of TSMC engineers based in Cupertino working with Apple’s chip development team.