Apple abandons Qualcomm: homemade modems from 2023

Apple and Qualcomm will separate for good in 2023, when the 5G modems of the iPhones will be designed in house and built by TSMC

It is back to talk about the rust on patents originated in 2017 a bitter legal clash between Apple and Qualcomm, which ended two years later with the former forced to pay the latter more than $4 billion. The relationship between the two companies, now soured, will last two more years, then Apple will design in Cupertino the 5G modems to be used in the iPhones.

On the affair of the 5G modems made by Apple has returned in recent hours the Asian newspaper Nikkei, which has set a date for Apple's farewell to Qualcomm. A more than complicated relationship between the two that is said not to continue beyond 2023, when TSMC - the manufacturer who materially makes chips for Apple - will be ready to provide Apple with the first 5G modems to "implant" in the iPhone. Apple will gain economic advantages from this operation because it will do without a supplier, and it will also have the freedom to design the modems as it sees fit, thus increasing the alchemy between hardware and software that is the basis of the performance and success of the iPhone.

On iPhones Apple modem from 2023

Apple cultivates the ambition to be totally independent and has always designed the chips for iPhones and iPads in house. Last year it "emancipated" itself from Intel for the chips for the Macs that are now also designed in house, and now it would like to get rid of Qualcomm, to which Apple turns to for the 5G modems of the iPhones under a supply agreement signed in 2019.

Apple will never be totally independent from third parties, simply because it does not have foundries in which to physically build the chips, but the farewell to Qualcomm would allow Apple greater autonomy. Apple doesn't produce any chip that powers its devices: it designs them, and then entrusts their material realization to the foundries of its main partner, TSMC.

The same would happen in the case of the 5G modems of the iPhones, which would be designed not by Qualcomm as it happens from 2019 but by the men based in Cupertino, and then built in the TSMC plants. The decision is almost official since 2019, the year in which while signing a short-term agreement with Qualcomm Apple acquired the smartphone modem division of Intel, which had decided to disengage.

Now according to information obtained by Nikkei Asia, the path of Apple's independence from Qualcomm would also have a date: from 2023 in fact it is said that TSMC will produce with a 3 nanometer process (so very advanced) the 5G modems designed by Apple. In addition to these, Apple would also be developing radio frequency and millimeter wave components, as well as a specific chip for power management.

The indiscretion is corroborated by Qualcomm's revelation of a few days ago that it plans to reduce production to about 20% for modems commissioned by Apple, and the "change of pace" would start in 2023.

The patent "war"

Apple and Qualcomm have been "forced" to find themselves in business. In fact, Apple, after Intel's disengagement in the segment of 5G modems for smartphones, had no choice but to turn to the American manufacturer, despite the fact that between the two, at the time, there was bad blood because of legal disputes over patents that simultaneously advanced in the courts.

The "war" between Apple and Qualcomm was born in 2017, when Apple refused to pay for royalties on essential patents held by Qualcomm, which in turn took Apple to court. The case ended in 2019 with a verdict in favor of the American chip maker, to which Apple paid over $4 billion. At that time, Apple decided that it would still continue to use Qualcomm's modems on iPhones but also that it would invest in breaking off any relationship sooner rather than later. In 2023, it seems, Apple will complete the divestment.