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Apple Might Make Its Own iPhone Modem to Crush Qualcomm

Apple already makes its own mobile processor, the blazing fast A12 Bionic. But the company is reportedly gunning to take greater control of its phone components by developing its own modem.

New job listings for cellular modem systems architects hint at Apple’s plans. The Information also reported that a source briefed by Apple confirmed that the company has an internal project devoted to developing an iPhone modem, though that wouldn't be ready until after 2020 when Apple's first 5G phone is expected to ship with an Intel-built modem.

This isn't the first time we've seen reports that Apple might look beyond Intel for its iPhone components. This summer, a rumor suggested Apple might leave Intel out of its 2020 phone plans, though a subsequent report clarified that would only pertain to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi parts.

Until recently, iPhones included modems from Qualcomm and Intel, but now that Apple and Qualcomm are duking it out in court, Intel is the sole provider for the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR. That will likely remain the same for the foreseeable future, if rumors about the 2019 iPhone prove true. It looks like Apple will stick with Intel for its first 5G iPhone in 2020, then switch to its own modem.

The two job listings, one in Santa Clara and one in San Diego, seek a “key member of the wireless architecture team working on modem systems architecture aspects for the L1/physical layer.”

Qualcomm is a fierce competitor, ant not just in court. Most flagship Android phones are built on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845, which sports an LTE modem that handily beats Intel’s in real-world speed tests. (Those test results, from Ookla, were provided by Qualcomm.) Qualcomm's next-gen chip, the Snapdragon 855, includes the 5G X50 modem, which will ready smartphones that use the processor to take advantage of the first 5G networks as they go live.

But Apple has proved, both with its A12 chip and Bluetooth W2 chip for AirPods and Apple Watch, that making its own components sets its devices apart from the pack. An ultra-fast 5G modem could do the same.