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.
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.