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Apple will design its own modems in-house, according to sources that spoke with Reuters. In doing so, the company may hope to leave behind Intel modems in its mobile devices, which Apple has used since a recent falling out with Qualcomm.
According to the sources, the team working on modem design now reports to Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior vice president of hardware technologies. Srouji joined Apple back in 2004 and led development of Apple’s first in-house system-on-a-chip, the A4. He has overseen Apple silicon ever since, including the recent A12 and A12X in the new iPhone and iPad Pro models.
Before this move, Apple’s modem work ultimately fell under Dan Riccio, who ran engineering for iPhones, iPads, and Macs. As Reuters noted, that division was heavily focused on managing the supply chain and working with externally made components. The fact that the team is moving into the group focused on developing in-house components is a strong signal that Apple will not be looking outside its own walls for modems in the future.
In recent years, Apple has been locked in a costly and complex series of legal battles with Qualcomm, the industry’s foremost maker of mobile wireless chips. While Apple previously used Qualcomm’s chips in its phones, the legal struggles led the tech giant to turn instead to Intel in recent iPhones.
Late last year, Apple announced that it would greatly expand hiring in San Diego, where Qualcomm is based. All of the areas where Apple announced plans to build out new campuses or launch major hiring initiatives appeared to be chosen because of their large pools of high-skilled workers in certain fields that Apple could potentially poach from competitors like Qualcomm.
When you ask an Apple representative what gives the company a competitive advantage or makes its products high-quality, they will commonly explain that the company seeks to control as much of the product as possible in-house and mention how that enables teams in different disciplines to custom-build more powerful solutions for one another within the organization. This was what we were told when we asked Apple’s Phil Schiller how the company achieved unprecedented tablet performance in the A12X for last year’s iPad Pros.
This is just another step in that strategy. We reported late last month that Apple had hired a battery executive from Samsung, likely so it could make its own lithium-ion batteries in-house. Apple is also working on developing CPUs that will replace Intel’s CPUs for at least some, if not all, Mac models in the future.
Still, it could take multiple years for Apple to have a viable modem product. Qualcomm’s dominance in the space is significant. For now, we only know Apple’s future intentions, not when they will come to fruition.