Apple’s In-House Modem Chip for iPhone Hits More Delays: Report

Apple is reportedly facing significant delays in its ambitious project to develop an in-house modem chip for the iPhone, according to Bloomberg, citing sources familiar with the matter.

Initially aiming to replace Qualcomm’s modem by next year, the iPhone maker is now unlikely to meet its revised target of shipping the component by spring 2025. This delay could push the release to the end of 2025 or early 2026, coinciding with the final year of Apple’s extended contract with Qualcomm.

The project, seen as a considerable challenge for Apple, involves designing a modem that connects to cellular networks for calls and web browsing. The component must be compatible with hundreds of carriers worldwide and perform on par with Qualcomm’s technology, a pioneer in the field.

Despite the efforts of thousands of employees since 2018, insiders believe that Apple is still years away from resolving this complex task. The goal is to create a modem that surpasses current data download speeds, but those with knowledge of the project deem this unlikely based on its current development stage.

Apple’s struggles with the plan became clear in September, prior to the iPhone 15 launch, when Qualcomm announced it would continue supplying chips to Apple for two more years to 2026.

The journey began over five years ago when Apple started recruiting engineers in Qualcomm’s hometown of San Diego. This move followed a legal battle over modem royalties with Qualcomm, which settled in 2019, leading to Qualcomm supplying 5G chips for the iPhone 12. After the settlement, Apple bought Intel’s modem division for $1 billion, signaling its intent to phase out Qualcomm. However, internal challenges, including software development snags and lengthy testing processes, have slowed the progress.

Apple’s broader vision includes integrating the in-house modem into the iPad and smartwatch, following its iPhone debut. The company also aims to develop a combined modem and system-on-a-chip to save space within devices and is working on replacing Broadcom components with its wireless and Bluetooth semiconductors. However, these projects are also facing difficulties.

The modem project, led by Johny Srouji and Zongjian Chen, is one of Apple’s largest, involving cross-functional teams. Despite being at an early development stage, there are concerns that the initial version may not support mmWave technology, a standard that allows for significantly faster 5G speeds.

One of the major challenges has been rewriting software acquired from Intel, with efforts to add new features often breaking existing capabilities. Additionally, the team faces the complex task of testing the modem with numerous wireless carriers.

Inside sources also indicate that the hardware technologies group is stretched thin, working on multiple projects, and staff departures have added to the engineering challenges. Apple must also navigate Qualcomm’s patents to avoid infringement issues, adding another layer of complexity to the project, reports Mark Gurman.

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