Apple’s custom-built 5G modem due to land in 2023

But it might not be integrated into the A17 chip.

When Apple bought the scraps of Intel's modem business in 2019, it was just a matter of time before it started selling phones without Qualcomm modems. According to a new report, that time is rapidly approaching.

Japan-based Nikkei Asia reports that Apple has tapped TSMC to build the new modem, which will use 4-nanometer chip production technology. The current modem in the iPhone 13, Qualcomm's X60, is built on a 5nm process. The report says production for new modem will begin in 2023.

According to the report, Apple is building the modem from the ground up with its own radio frequency and millimetre wave components as well as a custom power management chip, however, the first iteration might not be integrated into the processor. 

DigiTimes reported last week that Apple's first 5G modem would be separate from the A17 and Nikkei Asia seemingly confirms that by saying the 2023 modem would pave the way to integrate the modem with the processor, suggesting that the first model will be separate.

A 5G modem built into the iPhone processor would be the first time Apple delivers an integrated module. The X60 modem is integrated in Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888 processor on high-end Android phones, but Apple uses it separately from the A15 processor in the iPhone 13. An integrated modem would provide power efficiency and space-saving benefits.

Apple signed a multiyear chipset supply agreement when it settled its lawsuit with Qualcomm in 2019, which is primarily the 5G modem in the iPhone and iPad. However, Qualcomm announced at its earnings that it will only supply 20 per cent of iPhone modems by 2023, suggesting that Apple is indeed on track to deliver its own model by then.