Apple is not expected to be among the first wave of smartphone makers launching devices with 5G support. Samsung, Xiaomi, LG and ZTE have already announced 5G ready smartphones that will go on sale during the second quarter of this year. But the 2019 iPhone lineup, expected to launch in September, will continue to rely on 4G connectivity. Apple is engaged in a serious litigation with Qualcomm and has dropped the San Diego-based chipmaker in favor of Intel for mobile modems. With Intel not expected to make its XMM 8160 5G modem available till the end of this year, the first set of 5G iPhone is expected to arrive only in 2020.
However, by that time, Apple is expected to lag behind its rivals big time. In fact, there are even reports that the first 5G iPhone from Apple, even if its debuts in 2020, may not offer the best download speeds compared to rival devices. While Apple is rumored to be negotiating with multiple players including MediaTek, Samsung and has also created an in-house team to work on its modem design but there is a new player interested in helping the iPhone maker launch a competitive 5G smartphone.
Chinese smartphone and telecom giant Huawei has expressed interest in selling its Balong 5000 5G chipset to Apple. In an interview with BGR India last year, Brody Ji, Senior Product Director, Huawei Consumer Business Group, said that the company has no plans to sell its Kirin processors or 5G modem to other smartphone makers. Kirin is not a business but an intellectual property that makes it competitive against rivals, the company said. Now, it seems Huawei is willing to change its terms for one brand – Apple. According to Engadget, a source with knowledge of the situation has said that the company would be willing to help Apple.
A partnership between Apple and Huawei would be unusual considering the fact that the Chinese giant has been accused of stealing intellectual property and copying its rivals products in the past. But it is also the only chipmaker after Qualcomm with a 5G modem that offers competitive data speed. It is not clear whether the two companies have engaged in any form of negotiation. Fast Company reported that Apple has “lost confidence” in Intel, after the chipmaker failed to meet certain development guidelines.
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Huawei showed its Mate X 5G foldable smartphone with Balong 5000 modem at MWC 2019 in February. The 5G modem supports both sub-6GHz and mmWave 5G networks, and is backwards compatible with 2G, 3G and 4G LTE networks, making it ideal for Apple’s requirement. Analysts believe neither Samsung nor MediaTek are practical or technically viable at this moment. Apple joining hands with Huawei might not have any technical limitations but it will have huge political implications.
The US government has imposed a strict ban on Huawei’s 5G equipment and is also forcing its allies to drop the company from their telecom infrastructure. Apple, which sells nearly two-third of its mobile devices in the US, may not get the security clearances or FCC approval needed to sell iPhone with Huawei’s 5G modem in its home market. It such a deal goes through then it will be a win for Apple and bolster its ability to launch a 5G iPhone and Huawei, on the other hand, will benefit from getting a partner like Apple and order-book going in hundreds of millions of units.