Apple admits its in-house 5G modems are still years away, taps an old friend to fill the void

Iphone 12 5g
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple has agreed a new multi-year deal with chipmaker Qualcomm as it comes to terms with the fact that making 5G modems is hard.

Apple famously bought Intel's modem business in 2019 with an eye to cutting Qualcomm out of its supply chain. But things haven't gone according to plan since then, with various iPhone launches coming and going with nary an iPhone modem in sight.

Now, on the eve of Apple's big iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro announcement on September 12, it's reported that Apple has signed up with Qualcomm for a further term.

Modems are hard

Bloomberg reports that Apple is extending its current modem deal with Qualcomm for an additional three years. Qualcomm also announced the deal in a press release, saying that it will "supply Snapdragon 5G Modem‑RF Systems for smartphone launches in 2024, 2025 and 2026."

The press release goes on to add that "this agreement reinforces Qualcomm’s track record of sustained leadership across 5G technologies and products."

However, it's likely that the decision to retain Qualcomm's services says more about Apple's lack of an in-house alternative than it does the chipmaker's capabilities. Bloomberg's Mark Gurman writes that "for Apple, the move suggests that building a modem component has been more challenging than expected."

Apple has long been working to reduce its reliance on companies as much as possible. It ditched Intel in favor of its own Mac chips with great success, producing some of the best Macs to date. But designing its own modems has proven tricky, with analysts claiming that many iPhones would debut with such a chip in recent years — only for Qualcomm to remain firmly embedded.

Supply chain analyst Ming-Chi Kuo continues to point to the iPhone SE 4 being the first to use Apple's own modem. It remains to be seen if that changes following this recent news.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.