Intel has clarified that it bowed out of the mobile 5G marketplace earlier this month, and now we know why: according to CEO Bob Swan, the company had concluded that there just wasn’t money in the business after Apple and Qualcomm settled their ongoing dispute — a settlement which meant Qualcomm would provide modems to Apple once again.
“In light of the announcement of Apple and Qualcomm, we assessed the prospects for us to make money while delivering this technology for smartphones and concluded at the time that we just didn’t see a path,” commented Swan in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
The news that Intel had exited the 5G modem business came just hours after the Apple / Qualcomm agreement was announced. At the time, it was unclear whether Apple and Qualcomm had made up due to the fact that Intel had pulled out, leaving no other options for the iPhone to get 5G, or whether Qualcomm had just stolen the business back from Intel by settling its ongoing lawsuits. According to a report from Bloomberg, it was the latter: Apple had reportedly decided Intel’s modems weren’t up to the task of providing 5G for the iPhone on time, leaving no other choice but for it to take the PR hit of ending its years-long dispute with Qualcomm for the sake of the iPhone’s future.
Intel has yet to corroborate whether or not Apple came to that conclusion — based on the company’s statements today, it does seem that Intel will continue to provide 4G LTE modems for this year’s 2019 iPhones, at least — but Swan’s comments would seem to fit that narrative. If Apple decided it would have to abandon Intel and return to using Qualcomm’s chips, it would make sense for Intel to drop its mobile 5G business, given that Apple was the only major customer.
Intel isn’t out of the 5G game entirely — the company is still building networking and infrastructure products, as well as modems for devices that aren’t smartphones. The company is also still deciding what to do with its 5G modem business, in which it has invested significant time and money.
We’ve reached out to Intel and Apple for more details.