Qualcomm: Launching fast is ‘priority No. 1’ with Apple

But the two firms are playing catch-up, and the devil may be in the details of the RF front end.

From Sascha Segan’s “Qualcomm President: We’re Driving Hard Toward the 5G iPhone” in PCMag Wednesday:

Apple and Qualcomm are working on launching a 5G iPhone “as fast as we can,” Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon confirmed today at Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Tech Summit.

Amon broke down some new details on the two companies’ “multi-year” licensing agreement. While the first 5G iPhone will include Qualcomm modems, it may not implement all of Qualcomm’s RF front end, a decision intended to make sure the phone gets out on time.

“Priority number one of this relationship with Apple is how to launch their phone as fast as we can. That’s the priority,” he said.

My take: The reference to Qualcomm’s RF front end is obscure but substantive. Segan does his best to unpack it…

In the 5G era, the RF front end—a thicket of antennas, signal tuners, and power amplifiers—has become newly important as a way of tuning and squeezing more signal out of difficult networks. Qualcomm calls its new Snapdragon a “modem-RF system,” strongly suggesting that Qualcomm’s own RF front-end components be used with its modems to get the best signal.

Apple has always been a mix-and-match customer with Qualcomm, mixing Qualcomm modems with Avago and Skyworks front-end components in the iPhone 7, for instance. But Apple switched to Intel modems at just about the point when Qualcomm started making its own RF front ends, and the modem maker is now arguing that its envelope-tracking and signal-tuning capabilities make a real difference in 5G performance…

That said, Apple’s phones haven’t historically been the greatest radio performers, and it hasn’t mattered at all for their sales. [ouch!]


  1. Gregg Thurman said:
    Not matter an individual’s perception of their own technical/marketing expertise, I’m confident Apple will choose/implement the best 5G strategy for the next iteration of the iPhone.

    Arguing Apple’s choice is a waste of time because Apple’s choice will be made using data we do not have access to, no matter how smart we think we are.

    On the other hand, a discussion on iPhone revenue would be useful for those calculating FQ1/2021 revenue and EPS forecasts.

    December 4, 2019
  2. Fred Stein said:
    We have the best SmartPhone customer experience company collaborating with the best modem maker. Pretty good news for investors and future customers.

    5G is at the knee of the adoption S-curve which will take at least 7 years to reach saturation. Apple has plenty of time.

    December 5, 2019
    • David Emery said:
      Well, if you follow the legal case, one could argue Qualcomm is the -only- modem maker. (Not quite correct, but Qualcomm has used its patent portfolio to control the market for modem chips, and Intel has been clear that’s what forced them out of the cell modem business.)

      December 5, 2019

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