Apple is already developing its own 6G modems to edge out Qualcomm

The company begrudgingly settled a lawsuit with Qualcomm in order to get 5G in the iPhone. It wants to avoid the same troubles next time around.

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The first iPhones with 5G were released just months ago, but Apple is already looking ahead. Bloomberg is reporting the company this week posted a job advertisement seeking engineers to develop "next generation (6G) wireless communication systems."

“You will have the unique and rewarding opportunity to craft next generation wireless technology that will have deep impact on future Apple products,“ the listing says. “In this role you will be at the center of a cutting-edge research group responsible for creating next generation disruptive radio access technologies over the next decade.”

Few people have yet experienced 5G. The technology promises faster speeds and higher bandwidth than 4G LTE, but the technology has limitations, the primary one being range. It requires many more cell towers than 4G, and that they are more tightly packed together. It remains to be seen what 6G will offer, and with what sort of impediments. But whatever it brings to the table, one thing is clear: Apple wants to be in control.

Frenemies — Developing its own modems would be a first for Apple, but consistent with its moves to develop core technology in-house. Today, Apple is wholly dependent on Qualcomm to supply cellular modems, and it was forced to settle an ugly legal battle with the company in order to ensure the iPhone 12 would have 5G support.

Qualcomm demands a per-device royalty that Apple has said is exorbitant, amounting to 5 percent for every iPhone. The royalty is based on the value of the entire device, not just the cost of the modem itself. Whenever the cost of an iPhone increases, Qualcomm receives more, even if the price of the modem is unchanged.

The legal battle began after Apple told its contractors to stop paying Qualcomm's fees, hoping the move would force it to negotiate better terms. But Apple had nowhere else to get the necessary modems from, and Qualcomm knew that, so in the end it was forced to raise the white flag. Around the same time, Apple scooped up Intel's fledgling modem business, suggesting it wouldn't let the same thing happen again. It briefly used Intel modems in its iPhones but was forced to return to Qualcomm for 5G, because Intel's chips weren't good enough.

Go your own way — Apple has never liked being beholden to other companies for fundamental technologies, preferring to build in-house so new products meet its exacting demands... and so it can avoid paying license fees, or other expenses that cut into its profit margins. Apple already designs the processors for its iPhones and iPads, and just released its first Macs that ditch Intel for the in-house M1 chipset.

Bloomberg says that Apple began developing its first wireless modem sometime last year. That modem is likely to support 5G, not 6G, which isn't expected to roll out until around 2030. But it could mean that the next generation of iPhone dispenses with contributions from — or payments to — Qualcomm.