FastCompany: 1000-plus Apple engineers working on 5G modem chip

“Apple has lost confidence in Intel to deliver the chip, our source says.” — Mark Sullivan

From Sullivan’s “Inside Apple’s shaky plan to deliver a 5G iPhone in 2020” posted Wednesday:

After a gargantuan effort, Intel managed to get its modem chips into some iPhone 7 units, and was the sole modem provider for last year’s iPhone XS, XS Plus, and XR.

The chip giant was to be the sole provider of the 5G modems in the 2020 iPhones, too, but it has been missing deadlines for the development of the chip, the XMM 8160 5G modem, a source with knowledge of the situation says.

In order to deliver big numbers of those modems in time for a September 2020 iPhone launch, Intel needs to deliver sample parts to Apple by early summer of this year, and then deliver a finished modem design in early 2020. Intel said in November that it expected to ship the 8160 5G modem in the second half of 2019. The company, responding to this story, pointed me to that same statement. “As we said in November 2018, Intel plans to support customer device launches in 2020 with its XMM 8160 5G multimode modem,” a company representative said in an email late Wednesday.

But Apple has lost confidence in Intel to deliver the chip, our source says…

Meanwhile Apple appears to be readying itself to design its own modem chips. The company now has a team of between 1000 and 1200 engineers working on the modem chips for future iPhones, our source says. Apple has recruited RF engineers from both Intel and Qualcomm to work in a new development facility in San Diego, our source says, and the development operation has been ramping up quickly. It is possible that future iPhone modem chips could be designed at that facility by Apple employees, and then fabricated by TSMC or Samsung. But that effort is likely about iPhones for 2021 and beyond.

My take: Belt and suspenders.

See also: UBS: Apple’s 5G iPhones may not arrive before 2021, if then


  1. Jerry W Doyle said:
    This news does not surprise me. Apple strives to control hardware and software. It also controls sales. This is a company that cares about its customers to a degree where its actions often creates a bond between brand and consumer that transcends price points. This is a continuum of Apple’s vertical integration where once a manufacturer would own every step of the process, Apple now decides to control each step by owning it. Integration also is internal at Apple. Apple is not dependent on other companies to turn its vision into products. Vertical integration is such a huge advantage for Apple.

    “… We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make, ….” (Tim Cook)

    This is further evidence that Apple is doing the best work in its history.

    April 4, 2019
  2. Dan Scropos said:
    A bit off topic but this is a HUGE hire:

    Ian Goodfellow, one of the top minds in artificial intelligence at Google, has joined Apple in a director role.
    The hire comes as Apple increasingly strives to tap AI to boost its software and hardware. Last year Apple hired John Giannandrea, head of AI and search at Google, to supervise AI strategy.
    Goodfellow updated his LinkedIn profile on Thursday to acknowledge that he moved from Google to Apple in March. He said he’s a director of machine learning in the Special Projects Group. In addition to developing AI for features like FaceID and Siri, Apple also has been working on autonomous driving technology. Recently the autonomous group had a round of layoffs.
    A Google spokesperson confirmed his departure. Apple declined to comment. Goodfellow didn’t respond to a request for comment.

    April 4, 2019
  3. David Drinkwater said:
    I’m a little concerned at the prospects of coordinating 1000+ engineers on one design/chip, but I am not a design guy. The CPU/CEO of that effort has a lot to keep in control.

    And although Jerry Doyle suggests owning each step of the process as a positive, I am 99% sure that Apple will not be manufacturing the chip. That will be either Samsung or TSCM. Maybe GlobalFoundaries. I would prefer either of the two latter, so as to have a little intellectual independence from Samsung.

    There are many (perhaps too many) levels and layers of ownership.

    April 4, 2019

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