Intel gives up on 5G modems for smartphones, will focus on other devices

Intel has killed off any plans it had for producing 5G mobile modems, as detailed in a press release sent out on Tuesday, April 16. Instead of looking further into making 5G modems, Intel will instead be focusing its efforts on other avenues in the 5G space, like infrastructure and modems for other devices, including laptops, PCs, connected smart devices, and similar non-smartphone devices.

Despite professing excitement in the “cloudification” of networks allowed by 5G, Intel CEO Bob Swan blames the lack of a “clear path to profitability and positive returns” within the smartphone modem market as the reason for Intel’s sudden exit. “5G continues to be a strategic priority across Intel, and our team has developed a valuable portfolio of wireless products and intellectual property,” Swan continues. “We are assessing our options to realize the value we have created, including the opportunities in a wide variety of data-centric platforms and devices in a 5G world.”

However, it’s worth pointing out that other factors may have swayed Intel’s hand. Namely, the settlement in the long-running legal battle between Apple and Qualcomm. The same day saw the two companies announce the end of their legendary battle with a six-year settlement that will see Apple rely on Qualcomm for more of its hardware. Most notably, this will mean Apple has more options where 5G is concerned.

Intel had previously supplied the modems for the entire range of 2018 iPhones, and it was rumored Intel’s modems would power 5G connectivity in 2020’s iPhones. However, Intel’s delay on 5G modems means Apple would be far behind in 5G compared to competitors, putting the company at a severe disadvantage. Having the ability to instead buy 5G modems from Qualcomm, who has already created a working 5G modem, would be a large boost for Apple. Not that Apple should overly worry about 5G connectivity though — a survey from the start of 2019 showed that most Americans thought Apple was leading the way in 5G, despite not having any 5G-capable hardware.

Viewed in this light, it could be assumed Intel is folding at the sight of Qualcomm’s significantly stronger hand. However, it’s worth pointing out that while Qualcomm now holds something of a monopoly in the U.S., it’s far from the only player in the game, with Mediatek and Huawei producing their own modems. The practical birth of 5G also only just happened, with Verizon recently turning on its 5G network in a handful of U.S. cities, so it all remains an open field.

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