Apple’s 5G modem looks destined for the iPhone 18

iPhone 15 Pro review back handheld angled camera
The iPhone 15 Pro (Image credit: Future | Alex Walker-Todd)

Apple has mastered many aspects of smartphone design, but one thing the company seems to be really struggling with is 5G modems. As such, it currently relies on Qualcomm for these, and while it’s long been tipped that Apple is working on its own in-house modems, it doesn’t sound like it'll be ready for a long time yet.

This is according to Bloomberg (via 9to5Mac), which reports that this multibillion-dollar project now won’t see the light of day until at least late 2025, and possibly early 2026. Now, one report had already put Apple’s 5G modem launch at late 2025, but this article claims Apple was previously targeting spring of 2025 (so somewhere between late March and late June).

But if it slips to 2026 then that will be an even bigger delay than the late 2025 claim we’d previously heard elsewhere.

That means it almost certainly won’t be present in any iPhones until the iPhone 18 in late 2026, where previously – depending on which leaks you believed – there was the possibility that it could arrive in the iPhone 17. And that of course assumes this 5G modem doesn’t get delayed again, which seems entirely possible.

A long time coming

This is a project that Apple has been working on since at least 2019, when it acquired Intel’s modem business for $1 billion. But reports have suggested it’s proved more complex and challenging than Apple anticipated, with the company unable to match the performance and efficiency of Qualcomm’s modems.

And so Qualcomm continues supplying them, for now. Most recently Apple’s modem deal with Qualcomm was extended until 2026, so that in theory is Apple’s deadline for launching a modem of its own anyway, but the deal could always potentially be extended again if Apple’s 5G modem still isn’t ready.

So don’t expect to see an Apple-made 5G modem in an iPhone anytime soon, but this switch from Qualcomm is likely to benefit Apple more than it does any iPhone owners anyway.

There could be some upsides though. For one thing, it sounds like Apple wants to at least match Qualcomm’s modem performance, but it’s not impossible that the eventual Apple modem will actually offer even better performance.

It should ultimately also cost Apple less than relying on Qualcomm, and it’s possible some of those savings will be passed on to consumers. But it doesn’t sound like we’ll see that in the iPhone 16, the iPhone 17, or any of the other best iPhones released in the next couple of years.

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James Rogerson

James is a freelance phones, tablets and wearables writer and sub-editor at TechRadar. He has a love for everything ‘smart’, from watches to lights, and can often be found arguing with AI assistants or drowning in the latest apps. James also contributes to, and and has written for T3, Digital Camera World, Clarity Media and others, with work on the web, in print and on TV.