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Apple could be working on its own 5G modem for the iPhone 15

iPhone 13
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iPhone 14 could miss out on another upcoming Apple innovation as the company's allegedly gearing up to build its own 5G modems for iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches.

Supposedly on track for a 2023 debut (the year of the iPhone 15), Apple's been working to design proprietary modems (the component that processes your cell signal) for several years already, claims a new Wall Street Journal report.

These moves include Apple buying out most of Intel's smartphone modem division in 2019, including a team of 2,200 employees that's apparently continuing to hire more staff. It's also reportedly been hiring staff to work on cellular modem chips in San Diego (home of modem and chip-maker Qualcomm) and at a satellite office in Irvine, CA that happens to be nearby Broadcom, a company specializing in components that interface between modems and antennas.

Qualcomm itself has predicted its share of iPhone/iPad modems would drop from 2021's near-100% share to 20% by 2023. While you could interpret this as Apple preparing to move to another modem supplier, considering this with the above hiring and acquisition news, all points to Apple making proprietary modems. 

The benefit of making its own stuff would be a possible price drop, at least for Apple's component bills, as well as the option to design the modems to work perfectly with Apple devices. That could mean Apple's able to miniaturize the necessary technology to give new devices internet connectivity, like future AirPods or the rumored Apple Glasses.

Apple wanting to build its own modems and actually doing it are two different things though. Apple is no stranger to making its own silicon of course, it's already designed its own A-series smartphone chips, S-series smartwatch chips and most recently the Apple M1 series tablet/laptop chips. These are all processors though, so making its own modems would require a lot of new knowledge, as well as a lot of testing.

It would take a while for such plans to come together, as evidenced by the fact the earliest evidence we have of Apple's plans comes from three years ago. But perhaps four years into this alleged move to its own modems, Apple will be ready to arm the iPhone 15 with a modem of its own design. Whether it will be good enough to match up to the existing Qualcomm modems widely used by rival smartphones and existing iPhones is another matter though.

The iPhone 14 is expected to debut this September based on Apple's iPhone 13 launch timing, plus those of previous iPhone launches. It will bring some changes like a new notch design and upgraded cameras for the Pro models, and a non-Pro Max version to replace the current mini model.

Waiting for the iPhone 15 will supposedly get you Apple's first own-brand modem like we mentioned, but it's rumored to also to receive a more powerful periscope telephoto camera and possibly under-display Face ID.

Richard is a Tom's Guide staff writer based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, gaming, audio and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.