In a completely unexpected turn of events, Apple and Qualcomm just settled their legal dispute, dropping all litigation. The details from Apple and Qualcomm are brief, but give us the following four key details:

  • Apple and Qualcomm are ending their lawsuits.
  • Apple will pay Qualcomm an undisclosed sum.
  • Apple has entered a six-year patent licensing agreement with Qualcomm, with a two-year extension option.
  • Apple has entered a multi-year chipset licensing agreement with Qualcomm.

What will this mean for future iPhones, including the timing of the first 5G iPhone? Let’s break down what we know, and what we think we know.

A 5G iPhone for 2020 is all but assured

Apple wants several things out of its 5G iPhone. It wants to make a phone that does not compromise on form factor or battery life, and which works reliably on all existing major global networks, as well as all new 5G networks—including sub-6GHz frequencies used by today’s cellular networks and new mmWave frequencies.

That means it needs a “single chip that does it all,” and does so with great reliablility and power efficiency. And since 5G is so new, it needs to be thoroughly tested, too. Apple’s not going to take a big risk on 100 million new, expensive iPhones having critical cellular connectivity problems.

intel xmm 8160 modem 2 Intel

Intel’s XMM 8160 was likely to be the first 5G iPhone modem, but would it have been ready in time?

While Apple was feuding with Qualcomm, its main path to getting such a modem was Intel’s XMM8160. Development of that modem was recently accelerated, but there was some doubt about whether it would be ready in time for Apple’s 2020 iPhone, let alone meet Apple’s stringent power and quality requirements. 

With Apple entering into a new multiyear chipset licensing agreement with Qualcomm, we can assume that a 5G iPhone in 2020 is a no-brainer. Indeed, with its only major 5G phone modem customer lost, Intel announced that is is exiting the 5G modem business altogether

Qualcomm has 5G silicon on the market today in the form of its X50 modem, which admittedly is too power-hungry and limited in capability for Apple’s needs. Qualcomm’s second-generation 5G modem, the one that really meets Apple’s needs, is the X55. It was announced earlier this year, with samples going to Qualcomm’s partners in the first half of this year. The first phones including the X55 should hit the market before the end of the year.

Is a 5G iPhone possible this year?

Without Qualcomm, we would have said a 5G iPhone in 2019 is impossible. No other cellular chipset manufacturer is even close to supplying a power-efficient, broadly-compatible modem soon enough for Apple to begin mass production for a September or October launch date.


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