In 2020, Apple plans to transition back to Qualcomm modem chips instead of Intel chips, using Qualcomm’s 5G technology in its iPhones. Qualcomm and Apple were previously embroiled in a bitter legal battle, but managed to settle their disagreements in April of 2019.
All of the iPhones expected in 2020 will use 5G technology, according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. All four iPhones will feature Qualcomm’s X55 5G modem chip.
The X55 chip offers 7Gb/s peak download speeds and 3Gb/s upload speeds, though these numbers are theoretical maximums and actual speeds will depend on carrier network. The chip is Qualcomm’s first 5G chip that supports all major frequency bands, operation modes, and network deployments.
There are two kinds of 5G networks — mmWave (faster and limited in range) and sub-6GHz (slower but wider spread) and there could be some differences in which countries support which specifications. mmWave 5G technology will likely be limited to major cities and dense urban areas because of its short range, while 5G networks in rural and suburban areas will use the slower sub-6GHz technology
Kuo believes iPhone models with mmWave and sub-6GHz support will be available in main markets like the U.S., UK, Australia, Canada, and Japan, while in some other countries, Apple may offer iPhones with just sub-6GHz connectivity. sub-6GHz could also be disabled in countries that do not offer 5G or have shallow 5G penetration.
5G technology is still in the early stages of rolling out, but by the time Apple releases its new iPhones, the major carriers in the United States will have laid the groundwork for connectivity in most areas. For more on 5G technology and what we can expect when Apple rolls out its 2020 devices, make sure to check out our 5G iPhone guide.
Apple and Qualcomm are working together to get Qualcomm’s 5G technology into an iPhone as quickly as possible, with the two companies behind as their dispute was only settled in April 2019. Apple usually secures finalized modem hardware 18 months before the launch of a new iPhone.
Apple may be planning to use Qualcomm’s modems but not Qualcomm’s RF front-end components due to time constraints, which could potentially impact maximum wireless speeds, though we’ll need to see how Apple’s implementation plays out to know for sure.
Apple is using Qualcomm’s X55 5G modem chip in its 5G iPhones, but Apple is planning to design the antenna module that will accompany the chip itself. Apple reportedly “balked” at the design of Qualcomm’s antenna because it “doesn’t fit into the sleek industrial design Apple wants for the new phone.”
Apple is now working on its own antenna module, but there’s a chance that Qualcomm’s could also be used should Apple’s in-house work on the antenna not pan out.
Apple’s 2020 iPhones could instead support a new Wi-Fi standard known as IEEE 802.11ay, a followup to 802.11ad, which quadruples the bandwidth and adds up to four streams of multiple transmission/reception. The WiFi spec uses the 60GHz spectrum and is expected to be finalized by the end of 2020.