5G and Beyond

Apple's 5G iPhone Plans May Be Getting Clearer

A new report out of Japan indicates that Apple will release three new iPhones next year, and all of them will sport Qualcomm's X55 chip for 5G. The phones will also reportedly feature a new chip from Apple -- the A14 Bionic -- built with a 5-nanometer manufacturing process.

If the reports end up being true, the actions would position Apple to offer iPhones for a wide range of 5G networks (using the X55) powered by a thinner and more power-efficient chip (using the 5nm process).

The latest reports on Apple's plans come from Nikkei Asian Review, which is essentially Japan's version of the Wall Street Journal. The report said Apple will release three different iPhones next year at 5.4-inch, 6.1-inch and 6.7-inch sizes.

Apple has widely been expected to release 5G-capable iPhones in 2020. Those rumors gained steam after Apple dumped Intel for Qualcomm earlier this year as its modem vendor. Shortly before it won Apple's business, Qualcomm announced the X55 as an update to the X50 it launched in 2016. Qualcomm has said the X55 is a "multimode" modem, meaning that 5G and 2G can live next to each other on the chip, and that it supports maximum speeds up to 7 Gbit/s by combining transmissions in LTE and 5G.

Importantly, the X55 can support 5G transmissions across a wide range of spectrum bands, including most bands below 6GHz as well as a set of millimeter-wave spectrum bands -- 26GHz, 28GHz and 39GHz. That will be critical for US operators like AT&T and Verizon that are planning to launch 5G into a range of spectrum bands, from 700MHz to 28GHz.

As for Apple's own A14 Bionic chip, The Verge noted that Apple has been using a 7 nm process since the release of its A12 Bionic in 2018. Moving to a 5 nm process generally allows vendors to make smaller, more efficient chips. Other chipset companies are also in the process of moving to 5 nm.

A cloudy crystal ball
This isn't the first time rumors have indicated that Apple will release three new iPhones next year, all supporting 5G. "For the iPhone 2020 line-up, we expect all three new models to have OLED with 60/120Hz display, support both mmWave and sub-6 GHz 5G, and include a 3D depth sensor, among other features," wrote the Wall Street research analysts at Nomura's Instinet in an August report to investors.

However, not all analysts are convinced that Apple will insert 5G capabilities into all of its iPhones next year. "We believe Apple will launch four flagship devices next year with the addition of another variant of the Pro Max to the lineup and do not think the iPhone 11 successor at ~$700 will support 5G," wrote Cliff Maldonado of BayStreet Research, which carefully tracks the US smartphone market, in a statement to Light Reading. "We believe it would be difficult for Apple to maintain device margins with a $700 5G device in 2020."

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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