According to The Information, Apple is considering buying Intel’s smartphone modem business in Germany. Such an acquisition would aid its attempts to build 5G iPhone chips.
When Apple announced the iPhone about a decade ago, Germany’s Infineon supplied the modems. About two years later, Apple switched to Qualcomm modems – and despite Intel buying Infineon in 2011, Apple didn’t use those chips again until much later, when the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were released in 2016. This was because of disagreements over Qualcomm’s licensing fees.
After Apple and Qualcomm managed to bury the hatchet and signed a long-term 5G chip agreement in April 2019, Intel exited the 5G smartphone modem industry. At the time, CEO Bob Swan admitted to the Wall Street Journal that this was because of the Apple/Qualcomm deal.
In an interview with CNET, Intel confirmed that there was “significant interest” in its 5G modem division, but it didn’t reveal the names of the companies involved. The company added: “We have hired outside advisers to help us assess strategic options for our wireless 5G phone business.”
The latest news comes after reports in May that Apple might not have an in-house 5G iPhone modem ready for up to six years. Chipsets are among the most expensive – and most complicated – smartphone parts. By making its own, Apple could make itself less reliant on external firms.
Even with the assistance of Qualcomm, Apple will most likely not be able to launch a 5G smartphone before next year – a serious problem at a time when Huawei, Samsung, OnePlus, LG, ZTE, Lenovo/Motorola, Oppo and Xiaomi either already have 5G smartphones or have announced them.
In the US, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint have so far launched 5G phones, which offer bigger capacity and faster speeds.