Apple is reportedly in talks with Taiwanese semiconductor maker TSMC to manufacture its own 5G chips for next-generation Apple products. Corresponding Nikkei Asia, the move is primarily aimed at reducing Apple’s reliance on Qualcomm for 5G cellular chips.
The first generation of Apple’s in-house 5G modems is expected to be based on TSMC’s new 4nm manufacturing process. During development, the chip will contain components developed by Apple for radio frequency and millimeter waves. Apple has also started work on a power management chip specifically designed for this modem. However, mass production of these Apple 5G modems won’t start until 2023.
While Apple has been developing its own systems on a chip (SoCs) for over a decade, the company has typically shied away from making cellular modems. The current generation of iPhones and iPads use 5G-enabled modems from Qualcomm – which were delivered to them under a six-year contract the two companies signed in 2019. While Apple’s contract with Qualcomm does not end before 2025, Apple has already decided to lay the foundation stone in order to have the in-house modem ready for use in the next few years.
As part of its long-term plan, Apple got it first completed all patent litigation with Qualcomm and signed the long-term contract mentioned above. Months later, it also acquired Intel’s ailing smartphone modem business for $ 1 billion. The latter gave the company access to a veritable gold mine of approximately 17,000 patents related to wireless technology. These patents cover important protocols for cellular radio standards and modem architectures.
Aside from the initial development costs, the benefits of moving to in-house chips are numerous. Aside from giving Apple even more control over hardware integration, this would cut manufacturing costs significantly. While Apple is unlikely to pass those savings on to consumers, closer hardware integration – in Apple’s case – has usually resulted in massive performance gains. It remains to be seen whether this will also be the case with Apple’s in-house modems.
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