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Apple's own 5G iPhone modem could arrive as soon as 2021

Apple is working to have an internally-designed 5G modem ready by 2021 — a year ahead of prior rumors, according to one report.

If all goes according to plan, the chip will appear in at least some products in 2021, a Reuters source claimed. Qualcomm however is expected to have a presence in 5G iPhones starting in 2020, and the source indicated that Apple's technology will only replace Qualcomm in phases, as Apple will need time to make modems that work with all carriers and countries.

"There's a fierce desire to have independence, but they also realize it has to be done responsibly," the source commented.

Another obstacle is the terms of Apple's legal settlement with Qualcomm, which resulted in a six-year licensing deal and a chip supply arrangement that could potentially last just as long. If so that could mean Qualcomm chips in iPhones as late as 2025, by that point potentially a liability more than an asset. Apple's increasing use of internal chip designs allows it to optimize power and performance.

The Reuters source didn't specify Apple's modem as appearing in iPhones, but the company's only other cellular-equipped products at the moment are higher-end iPads and Apple Watches. The company is believed to be developing an AR headset and a self-driving car, both which would benefit from 5G but might not need it.

On Thursday Apple confirmed plans to buy most of Intel's mobile modem business for $1 billion. Intel was once planning to have a 5G modem ready sometime in 2020, so the deal could indeed accelerate Apple's efforts.