The first 5G Android phones will launch this year. But when is Apple going to release a 5G iPhone?
Hard to say. Previous reports suggested Apple would launch a 5G iPhone in 2020, but now a UBS analyst strongly believes the company won’t be able to deliver a device that support’s the next-generation cellular connectivity until much later.
In a note to investors (via CNBC), UBS analyst Timothy Arcuri says there’s “increasing potential that Apple may not be able to ship a 5G iPhone for 2020.”
His reasoning is that Apple won’t be able to source 5G modems for an iPhone in time. However, if Apple overcomes a “big technical hurdle” Arcuri thinks a 5G iPhone could arrive in 2021.
Apple’s problems with getting 5G modems for future iPhones is hardly a secret. Prior to the iPhone 7, Apple only used cellular “baseband” modems from Qualcomm. And for good reason: they’re superior modems capable of faster download speeds.
But after butting heads over patents, Apple dropped Qualcomm as its sole modem supplier starting with the iPhone 7. In the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, some versions came with Qualcomm modems and some with Intel modems.
Then last year, Apple took things further and stopped using Qualcomm modems altogether, transitioning entirely to Intel modems for the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR.
The issue Apple’s now facing is getting 5G modems from any supplier. Though it’s widely believed Intel will supply Apple with 5G modems for iPhones, it’s unclear if the chipmaker can provide them in time for a 2020 release. Arcuri doesn’t think Intel’s 5G modems will be ready for next year.
Similarly, Arcuri told investors MediaTek and Samsung’s 5G modems are “unlikely solutions”. Without a 5G modem supplier, Apple may not be able to ship a 5G iPhone until after 2020… unless maybe it creates its own modems.
That said, Apple’s never made it a priority to be first with new cellular technologies. The original iPhone only supported 2G even though 3G was already well on its way to becoming the norm in 2007. And Apple didn’t include 4G LTE in the iPhone until the rest of the industry had also already adopted it in smartphones. It wouldn’t surprise us if Apple waits until 5G networks are just a little more mature before it releases a 5G iPhone.
Apple will technically be late to 5G if it’s unable to release a 5G iPhone until 2021, but will it matter to the hundreds of millions of existing iPhone users? Probably not.
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