Apple and Intel have signed an agreement where Apple will acquire Intel’s smartphone modem business for a deal valued at $1 billion. Apple will gain Intel’s Intellectual Property, equipment, leases, and approximately 2200 Intel employees will join Apple.
The deal is Apple’s second-largest ever after its $3.2bn purchase of Beats Electronics in 2014. The deal is expected to close at the end of the year and Intel will continue to develop modems for non-smartphone applications such as industrial equipment, autonomous vehicles and personal computers.
What Apple has really acquired from Intel?
Beyond getting 2,200 employees from Intel’s modem group along with the accompanying 17,000 patents, Apple now has the intellectual property to develop a modem that can be integrated with Apple (system-on-a-chip) or SOC.
Commenting on Apple’s acquisition of Intel modem business, Ecosystm Executive Analyst, Vernon Turner said “given its performance-driven and highly vertically integrated product line, Apple had its own ambitions to build its own modem. However, despite being capable of building chips, Apple lacked the knowledge to build a modem. To solve that issue, it would always have had to license patents from a 3rd party, unless they buy the company that has the patents instead.”
Aligning with the fifth generation
The acquisition of Intel modem business displays Apple’s ambition to ramp up on 5G technology. The foothold in the 5G modem business is also expected to reduce Apple’s reliance on Qualcomm, its modem supplier. Speaking of the competition, Apple’s global rivals in the handset business – Samsung Electronics and Huawei – already produce their own modem chips.
“Apple has a lot of catching up to Samsung and Huawei in the 5G modem market, and while it has now gained technology from Intel, there is still a significant gap and it will be a haul for Apple to suddenly catch up and overtake them,” said Turner. “Apple’s modem supplier, Qualcomm isn’t likely to be worried by this news either – it too has a lead of several years. The bottom line is that Apple didn’t have a lot of options to turn too if it wanted to be in control of as much of the phone IP stack as possible. It purchased a modem supplier that was perhaps the weakest in the market and had already thrown in the towel on their mobile modem business.”
Apple will take some time to absorb the Intel team into its business and likewise with the modem roadmap. The deal is a step in Apple’s journey to make all of its own smartphone chips and having a more self-sufficient supply chain.