Why Apple should develop its own 5G iPhone tech

With 5G networks set to launch from around 2020, does Apple plan to develop its own 5G tech for future iOS devices?

Apple, Qualcomm, iPhone, 5G, networking

Apple’s fight with Qualcomm seems likely to force a search for alternative iPhone modems suppliers. However, with carriers expected to launch 5G networks from around 2020, might Cupertino plan to develop its own 5G technologies for use in future iOS devices?

Some evidence of Apple's plan

In the short term, Apple appears to be tightening its relationship with Intel. This could extend to capping the technologies used in iPhones, one Bloomberg report claimed. Apple’s accusation that Qualcomm’s royalty schemes place a “burden” on innovation suggests other challenges on the road ahead. That Apple has won wide industry support in its case will be an interesting twist for courts to decide.

The move to 5G is expected to enable new products and services across the mobile ecosystem. Super-fast speeds and the capacity to support large numbers of devices is often seen as the new Holy Grail to carriers anxious to relieve network congestion and apply new pricing models across a wider tranche of services.

Apple looks at 5G

Apple recently secured regulatory approval to begin working with 5G. It is going to test  on the 28GHz and 39GHz frequencies in California, a frequency called millimeter wave that is expected to become “one of the building blocks of gigabit-plus 5G services,” as LightReading puts it.

That report warns that Apple may not be at the forefront of 5G deployment partly because the testing equipment described seems to suggest these are early-stage experiments. I’m not sure I completely accept the argument partly because I suspect the dispute with Qualcomm may force Apple to accelerate development here.

Apple is also a member of Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance, a trans-industry group that works on next-gen network standards.

Employment opportunities at Apple 

It seems pretty clear that Apple is beginning to make some big investments in next-gen networking technologies.

Why wouldn’t it?

Networking technologies are now core to its business—while iMac was a computer with the internet built in, these days all Apple’s products are completely reliant on connectivity, including all its services income. That’s a pretty big business to be completely reliant on connectivity, so it shouldn’t really surprise anyone that the company is investing in next-gen tech.

Apple already has highly skilled network engineering teams, and its recruitment pages continue to look for more people with skills associated with future networking and 5G.

A Motley Fool report claims one job description seeks individuals to join its “silicon design group responsible for digital baseband logic design in state-of-the-art wireless ICs."

A second description seeks a senior wireless SoC designer who, “will have a critical impact on getting Apple's state-of-the-art radios into hundreds of millions of products.”

Core values

Apple already owns the technologies used inside critical components for its devices. It makes the powerful A-series processors inside iPhones and iPads. It designs the W-series chips used inside of its AirPods. It designs sensors and motion co-processors. They seem to work well. The next iPhone seems set to annihilate all comers in speed tests.

I can’t help but imagine that as we look to a move to 5G, Apple engineers will want to figure out how to exploit this fast technology, and how to ensure Apple devices can use 5G networks without impacting battery life.

So how can Apple do this?

I believe it can achieve this kind of power efficiency by custom-designing its own networking chips to fully exploit the advantages that ownership of the software and hardware used in its products has given its other processor design efforts.

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Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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