A new report from Fast Company suggests that Apple’s first 5G iPhone might still be a couple of years away, as the company is expected to introduce the new connectivity standard on its 2020 iPhones, possibly more than a year and a half after the first 5G handsets arrive at the 2019 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Citing a source “with knowledge of Apple’s plans,” Fast Company wrote that Apple ideally wants to use Intel’s 8161 5G modem chip for its 2020 batch of iPhones, and is hoping that the chipmaker becomes its sole modem provider for the iPhone line. Intel is reportedly at work on a chip called the 8060, which Fast Company noted will be used on prototype versions of the 5G-capable iPhone, but will eventually move on to the 8161, a chip that will be fabricated using 10-nanometer architecture, allowing for additional speed and efficiency once used in a mobile device.
While 5G connectivity could be one of the 2020 iPhone’s most important new features, it’s still uncertain if Apple will be using the 8161 chip on the device. Fast Company’s source noted that Apple has been “unhappy” with Intel, most likely due to lingering heat dissipation issues on the 8060. As most U.S. carriers will be using the millimeter-wave spectrum to facilitate 5G support on the first devices to support the standard, this could put a lot of stress on modem chips, thereby putting smartphones at the risk of heating up excessively and potentially compromising battery life.
If Apple isn’t able to get satisfactory results from Intel, the company has an alternative option to supply 5G modem chips for the 2020 iPhone, according to Fast Company. The publication’s source said that Apple has also been in talks with MediaTek as a potential “Plan B” chipmaker in case the aforementioned issues with the 8060 persist. But with Intel having at least one year to sort out these problems and Apple’s issues “not serious enough” to convince the company to again consider Qualcomm as a 5G modem supplier, Fast Company stressed that Intel has more than enough time to make sure the 8161 is up to speed.
As noted by MacRumors, Apple had Intel supply modem chips for this year’s iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR, having “transitioned away” from Qualcomm due to ongoing legal disputes with the latter chipmaker.
Although Apple’s reported plans to release a 5G iPhone in 2020 will likely put the company behind a number of Android competitors planning to unveil their own 5G devices early next year, Fast Company opined that waiting until 2020 is “sensible,” as there might only be a limited number of 5G base stations active in major markets in 2019. The publication, however, added that this probably won’t stop smartphone makers from advertising 5G support as a key selling feature of their upcoming devices, even if the technology “likely [won’t] be well-defined” once those phones become available to consumers.