Yep, Intel Will be Late to the 5G Party

Posted on February 22, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Apple, Mobile, iOS with 20 Comments

Furthering the perception that it is having trouble competing in this always-connected age, Intel’s 5G technology will be late and won’t appear in smartphones and other mobile devices until 2020.

The news, not unexpected, came during an Intel media event ahead of MWC (formerly Mobile World Congress). According to reports from the event, an Intel representative admitted that the firm does not expect to see consumer “products in the market” based on its 5G chipsets until 2020. That’s at least a year after the rest of the market.

And that’s a problem for Apple, which sourced all of its iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR modems from laggard Intel after it couldn’t secure a deal with rival Qualcomm, with which it is embroiled in several legal battles. Intel’s modems are slower than Qualcomm’s, and when Apple shipped iPhones with both modem types in 2017, it had to slow down the Qualcomm-based iPhones to ensure that all of its customers had similar experiences.

Intel’s latest was expected, however, so Apple has been shopping around for another 5G modem partner lest its 2019 iPhones fall behind the rest of the market. According to reports, it has talked to both MediaTek and Samsung—another firm with which Apple has had numerous legal battles.

Bloomberg previously reported that Apple’s 2019 iPhones would not feature 5G compatibility. Thanks to this embarrassment, Apple has begun an engineering effort to create its own modem chipsets in the future, but this work won’t pay off for years to come. Regardless, it’s understandable why Apple might want to distance itself from Intel.

That said, it’s not all bad news for Intel. The firm did note that Apple’s legal problems with Qualcomm created an opening for Intel, and that it would not impose Qualcomm’s admittedly reasonable licensing costs on its partners.

“Our model relative to[Qualcomm] is just completely different,” Intel CEO Bob Swan said. “Ours is not a licensing-based model. Royalty streams that are charged against the cost of the entire device, that’s a model that as you know has caused quite a bit of friction in the market. Friction for others is an opportunity for us.”

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Comments (20)

20 responses to “Yep, Intel Will be Late to the 5G Party”

  1. BrianEricFord

    Would be a real shame if these didn’t roll out until right around the time the networks were actually ready for the devices.

  2. dontbe evil

    ooops...poor apple

  3. lvthunder

    So what you are saying is there will be Intel 5g modems in smartphones before I get 5g in my city.

  4. datameister

    Personally I'd just like to see them put 2.5 G ethernet into their next chipsets so it will be built into most motherboards going forward.

    Besides that, hasn't Intel almost always been about 3-4 years behind the release of a standard before it shows up in their silicon? Seems like when SATA or PCIe would release a new set of specs we would always see a couple years of third party chips until Intel finally built the spec into their latest chipset. Not too surprising that they might not have 5G capabilities right out of the gate.

  5. Daekar

    Anybody who thinks 2019 is going to be the year of 5G is appallingly naive. Intel will miss out on almost nothing.

  6. wocowboy

    Qualcomm’s monopoly on cellular patents is a travesty and leaves other suppliers in a really difficult place, to have to come up with celllular radios using duct tape and baling wire to avoid those patents, ending up with vastly inferior operational results. I am really hoping that all the lawsuits against Qualcomm around the world with eventually end up with them having to share the patents with everyone else. They have enjoyed their monopoly for many years, it’s time for the statute of limitations to be enforced and share the knowledge.

    • mattbg

      In reply to wocowboy:

      So how does Huawei manage to do it?

      • wocowboy

        In reply to mattbg:

        Huawei pays Qualcomm for the use of the patents like everyone else who uses them. They pay exorbitant prices for that use, and is why Qualcomm is being sued around the world by other chip makers, and other phone makers, not just Apple, and by governments on behalf of users in their countries, for unfair pricing and restrictions and for not following FRAND.

      • wright_is

        In reply to mattbg:

        And Samsung, their Exynos chip, used in the Galaxy line outside the USA is superior to the Qualcomm Snapdragon (they had to throttle the performance of the camera 4K video app by 50% to keep it in line with the Qualcomm version for the US market).

  7. locust infested orchard inc

    Paul Thurrott's headline loaded with sensationalism, in true journalistic style:

    "Yep, Intel Will be Late to the 5G Party"


  8. red.radar

    Manufactured Crisis.

    5G is not going to be a big leap in capability like 3G (basic connectivity) to 4G (streaming video) was. The problems that 5G solve will not impact smartphones. Its designed for increasing scale. These changes are largely architectural at the network level. The biggest impact it may have in the consumers day to day is through IOT and maybe home-broadband in rural markets.

    Your smartphone will not have any new magical capabilities that a 4GLTE handset doesn't already have today.

    Qualcomm knows this...and is fighting through legal means to keep its business model from erroading as the market evolves into mass commoditization. Apple's play is to protect margins as devices become cheaper through creating their own silicon.

  9. dcdevito

    5G is going to take years to roll out, this is a non story. Sorry Paul

    • mattbg

      In reply to dcdevito:

      Agree that, being pragmatic, it's a non-story.

      But it is important that Apple can say they have a 5G phone on the market, whether or not it offers any real-world benefits. It's not good if it takes them 2 years to release one after Samsung and Huawei have done it.

      People who have 5G will think it's faster even if it's not, just like people who bought HDTVs thought they had a better picture even though they were watching the same SD content.

  10. pjs37

    I have to wonder though why does intel struggle with wireless modem development. It seems like its an area ripe for growth for them but I always feel like they are just slow with development? Is it because of their whole problem just entering the mobile chipset market? They do great work on their WiFi chips...

    • madthinus

      In reply to pjs37:

      They bought the tech and team and not sure how much resources are they pouring into it.

    • mattbg

      In reply to pjs37:

      It may be something that requires an extreme focus with strong top-down support that hasn't consistently been there. And, building a small, reliable, efficient integrated modern wireless modem is apparently a very challenging endeavor. I don't think Qualcomm has a 5G SoC yet, which should say something. Qualcomm 5G be at least one extra chip beyond what LTE requires, which takes away room for battery and other things. With the additional complexity (different antennas with new placement for different frequencies, etc.) and power consumption of 5G, that's why I'm not sure 5G devices are going to be all that impressive for a number of years until the implementation issues get worked out.

      Large companies are very driven by goals and top-down priorities and if the company doesn't treat something as a primary mission that gets a lot of internal attention and prestige then the best people don't go and work on it. You need assholes working on these things to get them done.

      People working for more dominant legacy businesses can also try to sabotage other areas of the company. It's not good, but it happens. This has been a problem for Microsoft as well.

  11. phytio

    Did they mention how they do mean to charge for their modems? I assume they do intend to make money here?!

  12. mrdrwest

    5G, harumpf... I can't get a decent digital TV signal if a helicopter is flying in the area.