The iPhone 15, introduced last week, did not receive a proprietary wireless modem, which Apple spent several years and billions of dollars developing – the company had to extend its contract with Qualcomm. She talked about the details of working on the project The Wall Street Journal.
Apple CEO Tim Cook commissioned the development of a wireless modem – a chip that connects a smartphone to cellular networks – in 2018, and the company hired several thousand engineers to carry it out. The implementation of the project is necessary to end Apple’s dependence on Qualcomm, which occupies a dominant position in the wireless modem market. The company’s proprietary wireless communications platform was supposed to launch with the release of the iPhone 15, but tests conducted last year showed the chip was too slow and prone to overheating. In addition, it would take up half the space of the iPhone and would therefore be completely unsuitable for practical use.
Last year alone, Apple is estimated to have paid Qualcomm $7.2 billion for wireless modems, and having its own chip would help the company save money. However, its development was significantly hampered by a number of obstacles: technical difficulties, poorly organized interaction between departments and even the actions of small managers who, contrary to the general line, were convinced that buying modems was better than developing their own . Project staff worked in various departments in the United States and other countries without central leadership. And local managers didn’t want to report delays and technical failures to their superiors, so interim targets were unrealistic and deadlines were missed.
Apple did not expect that developing its own processor would be much easier than developing a modem. The wireless module must meet strict connectivity standards to operate on carrier networks around the world. The project was codenamed Sinope in honor of the nymph Sinope from ancient Greek mythology, who managed to outwit Zeus himself. Apple started working on its own modem in 2018. By that time, the relationship with Qualcomm had already deteriorated: the two companies accused each other of lying, stealing intellectual property and monopolizing the market.
Apple has previously poached engineers from Qualcomm, but increased its efforts in March 2019. It announced a new development center in San Diego, where Qualcomm is headquartered, and planned to create 1,200 jobs there. But that same summer, Apple acquired Intel’s wireless technology division along with its core patent portfolio. Company management had set a goal of developing a modem by fall 2023, but it quickly became clear that this could not be achieved with the available resources. Apple found that the brute force method that worked in the development of processors and involved several thousand engineers is not applicable to the creation of a modem: when the processors run exclusively applications for iPhones and Apple laptops To be used, the modem must work in 2G, 3G, 4G, etc. 5G networks are operated by operators around the world, and these networks often have their own technological characteristics.
As a result, managers who had no experience with wireless technologies set unrealistic and aggressive deadlines. Engineers have built prototypes and verified that they can work on multiple carrier networks around the world. But after testing these chips last year, we finally realized the true extent of the problem. The chips were three years behind Qualcomm’s best, meaning their implementation would make wireless connectivity on the iPhone slower than the competition. Apple abandoned plans to use its own modem in the 2023 iPhone models, then realized it couldn’t be implemented a year later. The company was forced to enter into negotiations with Qualcomm for the continued supply of mobile chips – the license agreement between the two companies expires in April 2025, but there is a possibility of extending it for another two years. Apple still has the resources and will to keep working.