Apple is apparently working on its own, in-house developed modem to allow it to better compete with Qualcomm, according to several new Apple job listings that task engineers to design and develop a layer 1 cellular PHY chip — implying that the company is working on actual, physical networking hardware. Two of the job posts are explicitly to hire a pair of cellular modem systems architects, one in Santa Clara and one in San Diego, home of Qualcomm. That’s alongside several other job postings Apple has listed in San Diego for RF design engineers.
There’s nothing inherently shocking about this report, which derives originally from The Information (paywall). Apple’s M.O. for the last several years has been to move more and more of its technology in house.
Historically, Apple has used a mix of modems from Intel and Qualcomm in iPhones. In the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, the company even used chips from both companies interchangeably, leading to some frustrations with Intel modems that were considered inferior to the Qualcomm counterparts.
However, as relations between Apple and Qualcomm deteriorated, iPhones have recently switched exclusively to Intel-powered modems. But it certainly seems obvious that such a situation couldn’t last, given Apple’s inclination to control every single part of its devices. (See also CPUs, graphics hardware, and even power management chips.)
But building up, testing, and deploying such chips at the enormous scale that Apple needs is bound to take some time, so don’t expect an Apple modem in next year’s iPhone. But perhaps you might see one in 2020…hey, just in time for a 5G iPhone, maybe.