And so the breakup begins.
When Apple inevitably releases a 5G iPhone in the next couple years, Intel will reportedly have no part in powering its much-faster wireless data speeds.
According to Israeli website CTech by Calcalist, Apple has canceled all orders for a 5G modem Intel was developing for future 5G-enabled iPhones slated for release in 2020.
Citing internal Intel documents it obtained, the website says development of the 5G chip, which was codenamed “Sunny Peak,” has halted, and all product developers have been shifted to other projects within the company.
Sunny Peak was reportedly a chip that would have combined 5G, LTE, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth radios together. Though the website says Apple’s decision to drop the Sunny Peak chip was due to “many factors,” one particular reason was the introduction of a new standard for WiGig, the 802.11ad Wi-Fi protocol that was first introduced in 2009.
An unnamed Intel executive reportedly said in the internal documents, “The introduction of a new speedy WiFi standard WiGig (802.11ad) ‘into any mobile product brings new and unanticipated challenges’.”
Dropping Intel’s 5G chips could seriously hurt the chipmaker’s inroads in the mobile space. The company currently supplies baseband modems for some iPhones — the GSM models (AT&T and T-Mobile). Qualcomm supplies wireless modems for iPhones with CDMA radios (Verizon and Sprint).
With Apple and Qualcomm fighting over patent disputes and rumors Apple might ditch its chips altogether, Intel was seemingly in a good position to scoop up more iPhone business by becoming the sole provider of modem chips for future iPhones.
That dream looks like it’s on hold now, though. At least not for iPhones with 5G. By 2020 — the year most tech analysts expect a 5G iPhone — Intel might not have modems in any iPhones.
Apple is reportedly developing its own modems (because of course it is) and exploring the possibility of using wireless chips made by MediaTek. The latter is rumored to be supplying Apple with Wi-Fi chips for future HomePods and reportedly very close to displacing Intel as the secondary modem supplier for future iPhones.
MediaTek revealed its first 5G modem, the Helio M70, at Computex in June. The 5G chip is capable of transmitting data at up to 5Gbps, roughly on par with Intel’s own 5G modems, which have theoretical peak peak data transfers of “over 5Gbps.”
And even if MediaTek’s 5G chips aren’t as fast as Intel’s, the data speeds would still be a significant increase from the average of 450Mbps available on current Qualcomm and Intel-equipped iPhones.
Losing the iPhone business won’t be the only thing that could hurt Intel in 2020. Apple is also reportedly planning to dump Intel’s x86 chips in favor of its own custom-designed processors in at least some Macs sometime in the same year.
If Apple makes good on both plans, Intel could be in for a real bruisin’. The last thing it wants to do is have no part in the world’s most valuable tech company, which sells hundreds of millions of iPhones and millions of Macs. That’s just really bad business