Apple working on iPhone modems to replace Qualcomm

Apple makes progress on developing its own cellular modem in a move that lessens its reliance on Qualcomm.

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Apple is already working on new Arm-based M-series chips for its first non-Intel laptops and now has reportedly started building its own modems for the iPhone to replace core components from chip maker Qualcomm.    

According to Bloomberg, Johny Srouji, Apple's senior vice president of hardware technologies, informed Apple employees of the move to its own mobile modems at a town hall meeting. 

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"This year, we kicked off the development of our first internal cellular modem, which will enable another key strategic transition," said Srouji, according to Bloomberg

"Long-term strategic investments like these are a critical part of enabling our products and making sure we have a rich pipeline of innovative technologies for our future."

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The comments mark the latest stage in Apple's hardware supplier shift after launching its first Macs with Apple Silicon M1 chips. Apple's chip engineers are already working on several successors to the M1 that target higher-end Mac computers and may outperform high-end Intel chips. 

Srouji last July announced Apple's $1bn acquisition of Intel's smartphone modem business. Apple's 2019 iPhones used Intel modems while older iPhones used 4G chips from Qualcomm. However, its 2020 5G iPhone lineup used Qualcomm chips.  

The acquisition of Intel's modem business followed Apple and Qualcomm settling a long-running patent dispute after the iPhone maker accused Qualcomm of using an "abusive licensing model" to generate excessive royalties. 

Apple also agreed to a six-year license agreement for Qualcomm's wireless patents, which gave the chip maker about $4.7bn in licensing revenues

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Srouji said the Apple-made mobile modem is one of a few wireless chips it designs, including the W-series in the Apple Watch and the U1 ultrawide-band chip used in the iPhone for precise location information, according to Bloomberg. 

For future Macs, Apple is reportedly planning for 16 power cores and four efficiency cores for its next line-up of chips. Its highest-performing Macs today have eight-core chips. Apple's higher-end desktop computers are slated for release in late 2021.