Apple has been known to sit out on the first wave of technologies, but waiting until 2021 at the earliest to come out with a 5G phone would be a crazy long delay. Like disastrously long.
But that may be what's happening. As reported by 9to5 Mac, UBS analyst Timothy Arcuri has released a report that says "there is an increasing likelihood that Apple will not be able to launch a 5G iPhone next year."
That would mean no 5G iPhone not just in 2019, which was already expected, but not in 2020 either. This would put Apple at a huge disadvantage in the smartphone wars.
Why would Apple wait so long to adopt 5G? After all, Verizon just launched its first two mobile 5G cities today, and 30 more cities will be online by the end of the year on Verizon's network alone. The other wireless carriers have 5G launch plans of their own for this year. And the Galaxy S10 5G is launching before the summer.
The issue is that Apple doesn't have access to Qualcomm's 5G modems due to its ongoing patent dispute with the company. And Arcuri says that Intel, Apple's main supplier, may not have its modems ready in time by the end of next year.
That leaves Apple looking at alternatives, such as MediaTek and Samsung. Apparently, the MediaTek modem may not meet Apple's strict standards, and the analyst believes that "Apple does not practically want to partner with Samsung for this component."
As 9to5 Mac rightly points out, Apple already partners with Samsung on other components, such as OLED panels. It's possible that Samsung simply doesn't want to supply the part, as Apple missing the boat on 5G may be worth more to Samsung than the windfall of revenue that its modem would provide.
Avi Greengart, the founder and lead analyst at Techsponential, shared this comment on Twitter: "Agree that Apple can't afford to miss 5G next year in China. In the U.S.? It really depends on how ubiquitous the network rollouts actually are. That's still an open question."
Of course, it's still early days in the 5G revolution, but we're already seeing a dramatic speed difference in 5G vs 4G. In Chicago, we saw download rates in excess of 600 Mbps, and Verizon is promising an average of 450 Mbps. In our 4G LTE testing in the same city, Verizon averaged 86 Mbps. So we're talking about five times faster speeds for 5G.
Now, 2020 is a long way away. And, who knows — Apple could bury the hatchet with Qualcomm between now and then. But right now, a 5G iPhone is anything but certain for next year. And that should scare Apple.
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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.