Qualcomm says it’s No. 1 priority at the moment is to assist Apple with the launch of a 5G iPhone. Apple will use Qualcomm’s modem inside the first 5G iPhone, expected to launch near the end of 2020, and in an interview with PCMag, Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon said it’s working on the project as fast as it can.
Apple and Qualcomm have apparently signed a multiyear licensing deal to use the Snapdragon modem, but it won’t solely use Qualcomm equipment in the resulting device. Apple has used various manufacturers to make its radio components in the past, and it’s likely to be the same this time around, although certain parts of Qualcomm’s modem and radio system operate best when used together. This has resulted in the two companies needing to work hard to integrate the 5G radio-ready for the projected release date.
One of the reasons for the rush is that until April 2019, Apple and Qualcomm were in the midst of a messy, long-and-drawn-out legal battle over royalty payments. A settlement ended all litigation, and the two firms signed a six-year licensing agreement from that point. It also effectively ended Apple’s partnership with Intel, which supplied modems to Apple during the legal battle.
Now the two are friends again, the emphasis is on getting the 5G radio equipment working correctly inside the first 5G iPhone. Rumors point to Apple releasing the phone around September 2020, meaning the next iPhone to be announced could have 5G. However, this is not confirmed by Apple, and does depend on the device being ready in time. There are also question marks over which technology Apple will adopt, and whether it will make iPhone models with both mmWave and Sub-6 5G connections. Outside the U.S., Sub-6 5G connections are more common.
While Qualcomm is immediately involved with Apple’s 5G modem plans, and has the multiyear agreement in place, things could change again in the future. Intel sold the majority of its smartphone modem business to Apple in July, and the deal closed at the beginning of December. Apple is targeting a 2021 launch for its own modem, at which point Apple could start to replace some of the third-party equipment used in its modems with its own, and that includes Qualcomm technology.