The saga of Apple’s attempt to make its own cellular modems seems like it may never end.
Earlier this year, the Qualcomm CEO said that it was his assumption that Apple would switch to using 5G chips of its own design beginning sometime in 2024. There were rumors surrounding that statement that the new iPhone SE—introduced in the spring of 2024—would be a test case and the fate of the 5G chip in the iPhone 16 would rest on how well that turned out.
Apparently, Apple is having trouble producing a 5G modem that’s at least roughly on par with Qualcomm’s, because Qualcomm has announced that it will continue to supply Snapdragon 5G modems for iPhone launches in 2024, 2025, and 2026.
That’s all the information contained in Qualcomm’s statement, so we should be careful not to make too many assumptions. Apple may, for example, use a 5G modem of its own design in the iPhone SE, or use its own 5G modem in some iPhone 16, 17, or 18 models. Qualcomm does not mention being Apple’s exclusive supplier, nor that all Apple products will use its modems.
Certainly, Apple’s attempts to make its own 5G modems have not gone well. Apple purchased Intel’s cellular modem business in 2019, with the intent to produce its own modems and reduce reliance on Qualcomm or other vendors. That was never expected to be a quick process, but it’s now four years later and not a single product has shipped with an Apple-designed modem in it…and it doesn’t appear that we’ll see one for at least another couple of years.
Designing and manufacturing top-tier cellular modems is notoriously difficult, and Qualcomm is in a dominant position. It’s not enough for Apple to make a modem that works, it has to be at least as high-performance and low-power as whatever Qualcomm is currently shipping. After all, Apple couldn’t very well ship an iPhone next year with worse cellular performance than this year’s model.