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Apple hired away Intel's 5G modem lead just prior to Qualcomm settlement

Intel's departure from the 5G modem business may have been dictated not just by Apple's settlement with Qualcomm, but its reported poaching of Intel's lead 5G modem developer earlier in 2019.

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Apple recruited Umashankar Thyagarajan in February, no more than two months before the Qualcomm settlement, The Telegraph said on Sunday, citing a leaked email involving Intel executives Messay Amerga and Abhay Joshi. Thyagarajan is said to have been essential to the development of Intel's 4G modem for 2018 iPhones, and a project engineer for the 5G-capable XMM 8160.

With him gone, Intel was allegedly forced to "reshuffle" 5G development. The chipmaker announced its departure from 5G modems the same day as the Apple v. Qualcomm deal.

It's widely believed that Apple was unhappy with the pace of Intel's 5G work. Some 5G-ready smartphones are already on the market, yet analysts noted that Apple was rapidly approaching a deadline for picking a 5G supplier for 2020 iPhones, never mind 2019 models.

That may have been a key or even overriding factor in the movement towards a settlement. Recently however evidence from the Apple v. Qualcomm trial was made public, revealing that Apple had a years-long goal of reducing its royalty payments. To achieve that Apple intended to "hurt Qualcomm financially," "put Qualcomm's licensing model at risk," and even deliberately license low-cost patents to make Qualcomm's demands look excessive.

Apple is thought to be designing its own 5G modem under senior hardware VP Johny Srouji. That likely won't reach shipping iPhones until 2021 at the earliest.