Qualcomm To Confer Apple With Key 5G Node (5nm) Advantage in 2020?

Jun 19, 2020
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Prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus, Cupertino tech giant Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPL), who had been struggling to maintain sales momentum with the iconic iPhone smartphone lineup, had been anticipated to cash in from the early steps made in the industry towards adopting fifth-generation (5G) wireless cellular mobile networks. Apple, which had yet to equip the iPhones with 5G modems had been accused by critics of having missed the network's early adoption in China.

Now, Taiwanese publication DigiTimes is publicly reporting that Apple's model supplier Qualcomm Incorporated (NASDAQ:QCOM) will proceed ahead with fabricating the Snapdragon X60 mmWave+sub6 5G modems that the publication speculates will power this year's iPhone refresh. Apple and Qualcomm's manufacturing partner TSMC (NYSE:TSM) (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation) will use its 5nm advanced manufacturing process capable of printing 171 million transistors-per-mm² to build these chips.

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The report, if true, will ensure that the iPhone leads its competitors through featuring advanced 5G connectivity.

TSMC Will Commence 5nm Mass Production Later This Month For Apple & Qualcomm's 5G Modem - Rumored To Provide Apple With Key Technological Edge

The big question on everyone's mind as we head towards the 2020 iPhone launch later this year is whether Apple will be able to avoid underselling the new gadgets post-launch. Post-outbreak economic conditions have injected the global and North American consumers with fiscal uncertainty, despite the fact that spending on products that enable working and studying from home has jumped.

Apple, which has historically relied on high margins for the iPhone lineup has been caught smack in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak. The company's iPhone revenue dropped by roughly seven percent annually during its first quarter of the fiscal year 2020 (FY2020) as they continued a trend also exhibited during 2Q19.

The news from Taiwan about TSMC's production plans is also accompanied by a gloomy economic outlook made by notebook contract manufacturer Winstron's chairman Mr. Simon Lin. He believes that the effects of the coronavirus impact are unlikely to be mitigated by the end of this year's third quarter.

This outlook is mirrored by that offered by the management of Nintendo (TYO:7974) and Sony Corporation (NYSE:SNE)during the companies' earnings release earlier this year.

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Qualcomm's Snapdragon X60 5G Modem to power the iPhone will be capable of supporting both mmWave and sub-6GHz 5G networks. In layman terminology, mmWave networks offer higher user downlink and uplink speeds through utilizing more bandwidth than sub-6GHz networks. (Image Credit: Qualcomm Incorporated)

Qualcomm's X60 Marks For Crucial Jump to 5nm for 5G With Previous Rumors Pegging a 7nm 5G Modem For 2020 iPhone Lineup; Move Will Ensure iOS Becomes First Platform With 5nm 5G Modems

Launching the iPhones with 5G will let Apple gain a leg up over its traditional competitor Samsung, whose high-end Galaxy S smartphone is powered by an older 7nm modem. Samsung already supports 5G networks through some of its high-end mobile gadgets, and as adoption rises and costs drop, it's natural that the Korean tech giant will bring 5G connectivity down to middle-tier gadgets as well.

By doing so, Samsung will ensure that carriers have a greater incentive to invest in deploying 5G ground and base station 5G networks. Qualcomm's Snapdragon X60 was launched in late February and it is the third iteration of the company's 5G modem architecture. The chip's baseband (rendered above) is the world's first to be fabricated on a bleeding-edge 5nm process node.

From Qualcomm's 2019 Analyst day showing a comparison between the company and its competitors' products. (Image Credit: Qualcomm Incorporated)

At its analyst day late last year, the San Diego-based chip behemoth responsible for designing the iPhone's first 5G modem touted the key strengths of its platform. Qualcomm's vice-president engineering and chief technology officer Dr. James Thompson stated that the Snapdragon X55 5G Modem Radio Front End (RF front end) had roughly a quarter more transistors than Chinese vendor Huawei's Balong 5000 chip. He also highlighted that despite a much smaller silicon footprint, the X55 had a higher peak data rate and supported mmWave connectivity.

Given its extensive insight into OEM operations, Qualcomm had also predicted at the time that it expected to ship roughly 750 million 5G products in 2022. Qualcomm's chip shipments dropped last year as Huawei dominated China, and the American company now stands to gain significantly if its Chinese counterpart is denied access to high-end chip fabrication technology based on U.S. technology.

With Huawei out of the picture, Android vendors that utilize Qualcomm's products might experience an eager Chinese market wishing to gain the benefits of improved network connectivity at a budget.

Digitimes' report that the 2020 iPhones will use the X60 modem counters details shared by TF International's Ming-Chi Kuo and the Nikkei Asia Review. Both have claimed that smartphones will utilize the older X55 platform. DigiTimes first reported about the X60's presence on the iPhone yesterday, and a snipped of the information was made available for public access earlier today.

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