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Despite a report yesterday claiming that Intel 5G modem development delays could prevent Apple from launching a 5G iPhone next year, Intel says that it’s still planning to supply its XMM 8160 5G modem for 2020 devices. On the surface, that sounds like good news for Apple, which is sitting out early 5G deployments as it waits on Intel, and fights court battles with leading 5G chipmaker Qualcomm.
While first-generation Qualcomm and Samsung modems are now powering the world’s first 5G smartphones, Intel decided last year to nix its first 5G modem, the XMM 8060, and push up the release of its second-generation version to better meet customers’ demands. The multimode XMM 8160 is expected to run cooler, consume less energy, and support multiple types of networks ranging from millimeter wave and sub-6GHz 5G to legacy 2G, 3G, and 4G connections.
But unlike the XMM 8060, which was supposed to appear in 2019 devices, the 8160 is scheduled to be finished later this year so commercial devices can use it in 2020. That timeline was called into question yesterday when Fast Company reported that Intel “has been missing deadlines for the development of the chip,” and that “Apple has lost confidence in Intel to deliver” it, according to a source.
In a statement to VentureBeat, however, Intel suggested that its XMM 8160 launch plans remain the same. “As we said in November 2018,” a spokesperson said, “Intel plans to support customer device launches in 2020 with its XMM 8160 5G multimode modem.” The company pointed back to the November 2018 announcement of the XMM 8160, in which it characterized that chip’s rollout in the second half of 2019 as accelerated to meet the needs of “broad global 5G rollouts.”
Intel’s calm statement mirrors its response to a claim last July that Apple was changing its 5G chip plans. “Intel’s 5G customer engagements and roadmap have not changed for 2018 through 2020,” a spokesperson told VentureBeat at the time. “We remain committed to our 5G plans and projects.” But in November, following a separate Fast Company report that Apple had deemed the XMM 8060 unsuitable for the 2019 iPhone, some of those plans apparently changed.
Thus far, Qualcomm, Samsung, and Huawei modems are the hearts of early 5G devices, with Qualcomm alone claiming over 30 different products will use its 5G chips in 2019. Motorola’s just-released 5G Moto Mod uses a Snapdragon X50 modem, while Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G will use Snapdragon modems in some regions and Samsung Exynos modems in others. Huawei has also announced its own 5G smartphone, Mate X, with homegrown chips inside.
In recent months, Apple has stepped up hiring for its own 5G modem development team. The Cupertino-based company announced that it would open an expansive campus in San Diego, close to Qualcomm’s headquarters, for wireless chip engineering. It has also reportedly considered 5G modems from smaller Taiwanese chipmaker Mediatek and its key smartphone rival Samsung, neither of which are considered likely to be able to supply the company with enough 5G chips for iPhones next year.
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