Cellular Modems in MacBooks?

So this is definitely in the perennial rumor category, right up there with adding touch in that they surface periodically and then fade, only to be revived again.

Apple Plans to Equip MacBooks With In-House Cellular Modems - MacRumors

That being said, there could be more to it this time when/if Apple succeeds in creating their own viable 5G modem.

There are good reasons why Qualcomm pretty much has a lock on them right now (including the related IP) and why they are so rare generally outside of phones and ARM based tablets.

As Intel repeatedly found with their own attempts in putting them in X86 based systems, it is really hard to do it without the modem interfering with WIFI, Bluetooth and even the processor itself (the dragonfly and even the Surface GO/Pro for instance throttle due to cache errors when the radio is actively sending/receiving cellular data). And that’s even with extensive (and expensive) shielding.

So assuming that Apple can solve all of these AND that it would be part of Apple’s SOC, we might finally see it… But I’m not holding my breath

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I can just hear Father Timmy - “Just buy your grandma an iPhone!” and it will auto-connect her iPhone to the Mac when she’s out of WiFi range…


And Macrumors is reporting this morning that Apple may be pulling the plug on their own efforts at a modem despite multiple years/efforts/millions spent on this, leaving Qualcomm essentially as the only choice.

Perhaps a downside to the current structure of IP/Patent/Copyright law in the US
Apple to Discontinue Custom 5G Modem Development, Claim Reports - MacRumors

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I would argue it was more of them thinking they could succeed where Intel failed whose modems were notoriously bad to begin with. Scooping up a failing business whose modem technology wasn’t up to snuff to begin with was a plan to fail.

True about them not being good generally, but a major reason for that is the incredible amount of IP patents that Qualcomm created or acquired to protect their 5g business as well. I’ve heard that they are actually using in products less than 20% of the patents they have aquired/created

It’s also why both MediaTek and Samsung abandoned their own efforts.

PS: Qualcomm is not alone in being aggressive/a bad actor in this regard as Apple has been doing similar with their A and now M Series chips since their inception and part of why I have some caution/skepticism on what Nuvia/Oryon can actually deliver. OTOH if there is any group of engineers that can find a way forward, I’d bet on that group as well.

PPS: We’ve heard chatter that a consortium of ARM licensees (including Nvidia) other than Apple is prepared to help/defend the Nuvia efforts if Apple takes legal actions.

Conversely, there is similar talk that Apple may be looking to go their own way outside of being an ARM licensee too

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Additionally, skirmishes between Intel and Qualcomm are a long running saga starting when Intel realized that ARM/RISC was poised to become a legitimate threat to their mobile business.

Notable examples include “turboing” which initially blocked out Qualcomm until they found a loophole/flaw in Intel’s patents related to multiple asynchronous cores.

Qualcomm then responded with a slew of patents around Android, which similarly killed off Intel’s early efforts (bay trail notably) though a few devices (tablets and phones from HP and Asus) actually saw the light of day.

Intel then responded with their own patents which to this day hamper WOA performance and so on.

TLDR Corporate warfare is high stakes and they use every tool at their disposal to win.

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So a combination of patent trolling by Qualcomm combined with Intel’s modem business not being good to begin with was the nail in the coffin here. Clearly, Apple was hoping to make breakthroughs like they did with their internally developed GPU architecture that did not infringe on the numerous patents held by Nvidia, AMD, and others. Unfortunately, Qualcomm must have patents on all the best methods for developing a cellular modem that makes breaking into the market impossible for any new players.

Yup, exactly. Unfortunately despite often incredibly innovative thinking, there are only finite ways to do many things.

And it didn’t help Intel at all that the ratified 5G standards were practically built to favor Qualcomm (and they have a huge Washington lobby effort)

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And not to beat this topic to death (and we have gone far afield already and it’s what we do best here at TPCR :slight_smile: ) but I’ve long been in favor of one of IMHO the most commonsense patent reforms that was originally proposed during the Original MS/Apple war over windows.

That proposal was that patents would expire within a relatively short period of time, if the company in question failed to actually bring a product incorporating it, to market.

Unfortunately “pro business” Democrats and Republicans have both killed off those initiatives throughout the years

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This would be a great solution for everyone, especially as a deterrent to those patent trolls who just buy up ideas and sit on them waiting for a pay day when someone actually develops a real product. But the big boys OWN the pro business Dems/Reps who would have to become overnight “saints” to protect competition and consumer choice.

Just think where we would be today if Edison had patented every failed way to make a lightbulb…

Not to get too political, but we can thank ultimately lobbyists who “hire” paid puppets masquerading as elected officials.

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This actually makes more sense to me. In other words, perhaps “that ship has sailed” in relation to 5g for the reasons we have discussed here and in other threads.

And yes I have been (and still am ) a proponent of 5g tech. The TLDR of 6g is that it’s not on the surface anyway, a big leap over 5g, but OTOH has the potential for real world improvements in things like congestion with cell towers, signal acquisition in rural areas and importantly IMHO some inherent potential weaknesses in 5g’s security (though to be fair, 5g is still leaps and bounds better than 4g/LTE)

Apple has reportedly started work on a 6G modem — here’s what we know | Tom’s Guide (tomsguide.com)

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