This is Apple's 5G iPhone secret weapon

(Image credit: Ben Geskin)

It is now a lock that Apple will offer the iPhone 12 with 5G connectivity. It’s also certain that Apple will use Qualcomm’s 5G modem, even though it would prefer to use its own — there’s simply no other option right now.

But there is a new wrinkle in the design of the 5G iPhone, and that’s the antenna. According to a new report from Fast Company, Apple is designing its own 5G antenna for its new iPhones this fall, potentially forgoing Qualcomm’s antenna.

The reason for this move is pretty simple. Apple doesn’t want to bloat the design of the iPhone 12 and Qualcomm’s QTM 525 millimeter-wave antenna module antenna is reportedly too thick for Apple’s tastes. 

Qualcomm has said that its QTM 525 antenna module will “support 5G smartphone designs sleeker than 8 millimeters thick.” That comes out to 0.31 inches.

Currently, the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max are both 0.32 inches thick. And the regular iPhone 11 is slightly thicker at 0.33 inches, so perhaps Apple wants to be more aggressive with the iPhone 12’s design. 

As Fast Company notes, designing your own 5G antenna is frought with risk:

“Having the two parts made by different companies may introduce some uncertainty and bump up the difficulty level of the overall design.”

In addition, Apple has plenty of scar tissue from Antennagate, the controversy surrounding the iPhone 4 and complaints from dropped calls. Apple responded to those complaints by suggesting that people not hold the phone by the bottom-left corner or use a case.

Part of the reason why Apple probably does not want to use Qualcomm’s antenna is that it doesn’t want to “double dip,” which means paying for the component while also paying Qualcomm royalties for using the company’s IP. 

But this report leaves the door open for Apple opting for Qualcomm’s antenna after all if the iPhone 12’s designers can’t get it to work the way that they want to. A decision will allegedly be made before the summer prior to the 5G iPhone’s production.

Check out our iPhone 12 hub to get up to speed on all of the latest news, leaks and rumors surrounding Apple's next flagship phones.

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.