Apple is widely expected to debut its first 5G iPhones this fall, powered by Qualcomm’s X55 modem — thanks to Apple and Qualcomm’s surprise settlement last year that saw the two companies resume business. But a new report from Fast Company indicates that Apple is looking to limit its reliance on Qualcomm, with the iPhone maker said to be exploring designing its own 5G antenna rather than relying on Qualcomm’s existing hardware.
The issue at hand is apparently the size of Qualcomm’s QTM525 antenna, specifically for accessing the faster mmWave version of 5G, which a Fast Company source claims is too large for the slim profile of Apple’s next iPhones. As such, Apple is said to be developing its own, in-house antenna system that would better fit the intended iPhone design. Antennas for mmWave technology in particular are important, given the relatively poor range of the ultra-fast wireless technology, with 5G phones generally requiring multiple mmWave antennas to ensure good connectivity.
It’s not finalized that Apple will actually use its own 5G antenna for its 2020 iPhones. The company is apparently considering two designs: a thinner one using Apple-made antennas, and a thicker one that would feature Qualcomm’s.
Apple’s development of its own 5G antenna system makes a lot of sense, given that the company’s reliance on Qualcomm is likely to be temporary. Apple had only settled its ongoing lawsuit with Qualcomm in the first place because its then partner Intel wasn’t able to provide 5G chips for Apple in the time frame it wanted — according to Fast Company’s source, Apple still feels it’s “getting screwed on royalties” in its dealings with Qualcomm.
Apple would go on to purchase Intel’s entire 5G modem business from it. This allowed Apple to take the groundwork that Intel had already done and continue to build on it for fully customized, in-house modems that could be designed from the ground up specifically for future iPhones, iPads, and other devices.
It may still be some time before that modem group is able to produce a product on par with Qualcomm’s, but it’s almost certainly on the horizon for Apple — and having its own custom 5G antennas to go with those eventual chips makes perfect sense.