Report: Apple's Not Sure Intel Can Supply 5G iPhone Modems

(Image credit: Intel)

There comes a time in everyone's life when they have to wonder if they might be the problem. For Apple, it's been easy for the company to say that Qualcomm was to blame for its decision to find a new iPhone modem supplier, but with Fast Company reporting yesterday that Apple has been questioning its decision to purchase modems for the first 5G iPhone from Intel, a little bit of introspection might be in order.

Intel was supposed to be the only provider of 5G wireless modems in the iPhone expected to debut in 2020. But according to Fast Company's source, "Apple has lost confidence in Intel to deliver the chip." It added that Intel "has been missing deadlines for the development of the chip, the XMM 8160 5G modem, a source with knowledge of the situation says." An Intel spokesperson later told Fast Company that it's still planning "to support customer device launches in 2020," as it said in November 2018.

Still, it's easy to understand why Apple might be worried about getting 5G modems into the iPhone on schedule, especially when Intel is said to be missing internal deadlines and dealing with a massive production shortage in other areas of its business. Some companies have decided to weather that 14nm CPU shortage, but more and more have started to explore other options. We can't imagine Apple opting to wait out any delays.

The report also made it clear that Apple's not the only one questioning its relationship with Intel. Fast Company said the chipmaker has struggled to meet Apple's demands, especially the one that requires its orders to be prioritized over Intel's other customers. The companies negotiated a sweetheart deal when it came to wireless modems, which means Intel's profits are minimal. Prioritizing a low-profit customer is... challenging.

Of course, this is all based on a single report. Intel could ship the XMM 8160 on schedule, Apple could shove the modem into the first 5G iPhone ahead of its expected 2020 release and the relationship could grow from there. That would certainly make it easier for Apple, which is currently engaged in a global legal battle with the other company that could meet its requirements.

But there are signs that this isn't the case. In February, it was reported that Intel confirmed Apple Mac switching to Arm CPUs by 2020. The company might be working on its own modems, too, as Reuters reported in February.

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Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.