Apple begins building its own cellular modem to break up with Qualcomm

Iphone 12 5g
Iphone 12 5g (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • Apple has started work on its own cellular modem.
  • It is unclear when the first Apple-designed modem will be featured in the iPhone.

Reported by Bloomberg, Apple has begun the work to design and build its own cellular modem, a move that would eventually cut off the need for the company to rely on Qualcomm to supply the modems in its lineup of iPhones and iPads.

According to the report, Johny Srouji, Apple's senior vice president of hardware technologies, made the announcement during a town hall meeting with Apple employees.

"This year, we kicked off the development of our first internal cellular modem which will enable another key strategic transition," he said. "Long-term strategic investments like these are a critical part of enabling our products and making sure we have a rich pipeline of innovative technologies for our future."

Srouji reaffirmed that the company's acquisition of Intel's modem business back in 2019 was a major strategic move to enable the company in having complete control of yet another part of its devices.

Srouji said the $1 billion acquisition of Intel Corp.'s modem business in 2019 helped Apple build a team of hardware and software engineers to develop its own cellular modem. He said the modem is one of a few wireless chips the company designs, including the W-series in the Apple Watch and the U1 ultrawide-band chip in the iPhone for precise location information.

Qualcomm is still only a year into a six-year licensing pact with Apple, so it is unclear when the first Apple-designed modem will make its way into the iPhone.

Srouji did not say when the cellular modem would be ready to ship in products, but a 2019 patent agreement between Apple and Qualcomm includes a six-year licensing pact. Qualcomm charges license fees to phone makers based on wireless patents it owns, regardless of whether they use its chips or not.

As previously reported and announced by Apple, Srouji mentioned in the town hall that Apple was also designing a family of Apple Silicon chips that will roll out in future Macs. The first, the M1, was released in the new MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac mini in November.

In the meeting with employees, Srouji also highlighted Apple's other work on chips, including the new M1 processors in the latest MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac mini. Apple is working on a "family" of Mac chips, Srouji said. Apple is planning upgrades that are designed to improve on Intel's fastest computer chips, Bloomberg News reported earlier this week.

Apple has been laying the groundwork to design its own modem for years now. While it will certainly make its way into the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, it is also possible that it could enable the first MacBook with cellular built-in.

Joe Wituschek

Joe Wituschek is a Contributor at iMore. With over ten years in the technology industry, one of them being at Apple, Joe now covers the company for the website. In addition to covering breaking news, Joe also writes editorials and reviews for a range of products. He fell in love with Apple products when he got an iPod nano for Christmas almost twenty years ago. Despite being considered a "heavy" user, he has always preferred the consumer-focused products like the MacBook Air, iPad mini, and iPhone 13 mini. He will fight to the death to keep a mini iPhone in the lineup. In his free time, Joe enjoys video games, movies, photography, running, and basically everything outdoors.