Intel's new modem might help the next iPhone give the Galaxy S8 a real run for its money.
The next iPhone could go gigabit. Today Intel announced its XMM7650 modem, which joins Qualcomm's X16 in the gigabit LTE world. Intel's modem is probably the front-runner for this fall's iPhone 7s or iPhone 8.
The XMM7560 is a direct competitor to the X16, which Qualcomm announced last year and is now part of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 chipset. The Qualcomm modem is in some Australian and Japanese hotspots, and it's likely to appear in the Samsung Galaxy S8 phone.
Like the X16, the Intel 7560 is LTE Category 16/13, with download speeds of 1Gbps and upload speeds of 225Mbps. It supports up to 8x4 MIMO, up to 35 LTE bands, and all of the current evolutions of LTE, GSM, and CDMA. Intel says the new modem is "expected to sample in the first half of this year and move into production soon afterward."
Hey Look, It's the iPhone 8
The next iPhone will probably come out in September or October, which leaves a few months for Intel to ramp up production on the 7560.
Apple is currently at war with Qualcomm, whose modems it has used for several years because of Qualcomm's CDMA and LTE leadership. Last year, it switched out the modems in its AT&T and T-Mobile phones for slightly inferior Intel products, and it's currently suing Qualcomm for a billion dollars out of rage over the chip maker's licensing fees.
Qualcomm had Apple in an unusual, difficult situation: its modems were so superior to the competition that it could dictate terms to Apple. Apple is used to the power dynamic working the other way around.
The Intel 7560 has one major feature that the Intel modem in the iPhone 7 didn't: CDMA/EVDO. During the iPhone 7 cycle, Apple had to stick with Qualcomm in part because Intel didn't have a product working on Verizon and Sprint's CDMA/EVDO networks. That means if it wants, Apple will be able to go to a single, global iPhone model with an Intel modem.
And Intel is hungry. The company has failed over and over again in mobile. Its attempt at making mobile chipsets, the Atom line, flamed out last year when its final major client, Asus, switched away to Qualcomm. Intel is probably ready to offer Apple some terrific terms to capture a massive amount of high-end market share from its decades-long rival.
One Phone to Rule Them All
Apple doesn't like putting new modem features in before the networks appear, but Sprint and T-Mobile are promising gigabit LTE later this year. As the Galaxy S8 will be able to access those networks, using the Intel 7560 would help Apple take a potential Samsung advantage off the table.
It would also fix one of the most annoying "features" in the iPhone 7, namely that you can't use AT&T or T-Mobile iPhones on Verizon or Sprint. It would streamline Apple's production and inventory processes by reducing the number of models made and make it easier to swap used devices.
Apple, Intel, and Qualcomm are mum about the next iPhone, of course. But I think the writing's on the wall. If it's true, then Qualcomm's going to take a big sales hit at the end of the year.