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Apple 5G chip development will take several years, experts say



Industry experts have explained why Apple had to sign a multi-year procurement agreement with Qualcomm after hoping to switch to Intel finally fell apart. It will take years to design, develop and test an Apple 5G chip.

In fact, they say, a modem is one of the most complex chips found in a smartphone …

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Bloomberg explains.

"Modems are the king's sport," said Gus Richard, a chip analyst at Northland Capital Markets. "Qualcomm is probably the only company on the planet that can get a 5G modem in an Apple phone next year" […]

Modems require more layer engineering than any other processor. The modem connects phones to cellular networks and allows devices to surf the web, download apps and dial. Making this work smoothly throughout the world is a complex task that requires broad industrial knowledge that is difficult to obtain. Apple began internal work on modems about a year ago, and the section usually takes at least two years to build and another one and a half years to test.

The problem is all the different things a radio chip must do. It handles Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and mobile data. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth communication must be compatible with a range of standards from the oldest to the last, and things are even more complicated when it comes to mobile data. There you need compatibility with every generation of technology, but also all the different standards used worldwide.

Wireless network operators, from China Mobile Ltd. to Orange SA to AT & T Inc., builds networks in different ways, using varying equipment and different radio frequencies. Modems must be integrated with this diverse technology, while seamlessly bouncing back on older wireless systems.

For a phone to be sold globally, it must be qualified to work on many local networks, a process that requires strict field testing by expert engineers […]

"Getting modems qualified worldwide is extremely difficult, "Richard said. "Businesses get a lot of tribal knowledge going through 2G, or 3G, or 4G. You probably won't have the experience needed to succeed without having that story."

Qualcomm has that experience. It also has highly sophisticated test laboratories that can be configured to mimic the radio environment of any country in the world. If the iPhone manufacturer is to make an Apple 5G chip, it must develop such devices and design the chip.

An analyst estimates that Apple is at least five years behind Qualcomm at this point.

We believe that Qualcomm's 5G leadership has resulted in Qualcomm being the sole source modem supplier for Apple's 5G series over the next 5-plus years.

We do not know the length of multi-year purchase agreement, but we do know that Apple has licensed Qualcomm's patents for at least six years, with the option of extending the time frame to eight years. It is at least possible that it must continue to license Qualcomm IP even when it has its own chips.

We first learned about Apple's plans to develop their own radiochip back in November last year. The report was supported by jobs, and the company later made a much higher profile project.

Apple is believed to have around 200 engineers currently working on their modem project, planning to hire hundreds. But if the experts are right, it is unlikely to see an iPhone with an Apple 5G chip until it first becomes 2024.

Photo: Shutterstock


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