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Apple may design its own 5G antenna for the iPhone 12

Published Feb 14th, 2020 5:31PM EST
iPhone 12 5G
Image: Ray Tang/LNP/Shutterstock

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The saga involving Apple’s iPhone 12 and its support for 5G has been interesting, to say the least. For a while, there were even rumors that the iPhone 12 might not ship with 5G on account of Apple’s fierce patent and royalty dispute with Qualcomm. Ultimately, though, Apple realized that Qualcomm’s 5G offering was best in class, a realization that prompted Apple to reach a settlement agreement with Qualcomm in April of last year.

In light of that, a new report from Fast Company relays that Apple is working on its own antenna design after concluding that Qualcomm’s QTM 525 millimeter-wave antenna “doesn’t fit into the sleek industrial design Apple wants for the new phone.”

Per usual, nothing is set in stone just yet and the report notes that Apple may be forced to use Qualcomm’s antenna module if its own efforts fall short.

However, Apple typically designs on several tracks, and it’s concurrently working on another design that uses both the Qualcomm modem and antenna. It could default to this option later this year, our source said. But that would require Apple to settle for a slightly thicker iPhone than it wants. Qualcomm has said that its QTM 525 antenna module will “support 5G smartphone designs sleeker than 8 millimeters thick.”

Notably, previous reports have indicated that the iPhone 12 hasn’t reached the DVT phase of development yet, which is to say the company hasn’t yet finalized the device’s feature set.

The report adds that designing a 5G antenna poses a fair number of technical challenges. Compounding matters, of course, is that Apple has had a handful of missteps in the realm of antenna design over the past few years, with the iPhone 4 antenna design being the most well-known example.

Interestingly enough, the report adds that Apple is keen on using own antenna design as a way to lessen its overall reliance on Qualcomm.

Apple doesn’t just want to use its own antenna for industrial design reasons. In general, the company wants as few Qualcomm parts in the iPhone as possible. As our source put it, Apple still feels it’s “getting screwed on royalties” by Qualcomm.

Apple is stuck with Qualcomm for now, but it’s no secret that the company eventually wants to kick Qualcomm to the curb and utilize an in-house 5G modem design. To this end, recall that Apple last summer acquired the majority of Intel’s smartphone modem business.

On a related note, we’ve seen reports indicating that Apple has accelerated its 5G chip development in recent months. In turn, there have been rumblings that Apple is hoping to have a 5G alternative to Qualcomm as soon as 2021.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.