Apple Ditches Qualcomm to Design its Own 5G mm-Wave Antenna Module for the iPhone 12

A recent teardown by iFixit of the new iPhone 12 revealed that Apple is using antenna modules designed by Universal Scientific Industrial (USI), a Shanghai based SiP design and manufacturing company, instead of Qualcomm’s offerings. iFixit is a wiki-based site that teaches people how to fix almost anything. They also empower individuals to share their technical knowledge with the rest of the world. 

Apple chose to ditch Qualcomm in the mmWave 5G department even though most other mmWave 5G smartphones used Qualcomm 5G mmWave antenna module. The antenna embedded in the frame of the iPhone 12 is a USI product, labeled 339M00104 S30U7FH. The US variant of iPhone 12 comes with these 5G mmWave antenna modules—one embedded in the side of the frame, and another on the back of the logic board.

Qualcomm is the world leader in 5G mmWave solutions, so this loss is further evidence that their leadership is not infallible. There have been many rumors that Apple would develop a custom front-end, but most believed that would be for the sub-6 GHz component. Instead, Apple is utilizing the Qualcomm SDR865 transceiver and subsystem for the Sub-6 GHz part of the phone.

Image Credit: iFixit

Many would think this is a classic Apple supplier diversity and cost cutting measure, but it seems that Qualcomm's loss is specifically due to a technical deficiency i.e the thickness of the module. Qualcomm's most advanced mmWave antenna module is the 2nd generation QTM525. This module has been advertised as being less than 8mm thick. The thinnest shipping device with the X55 modem and QTM525 antennas is the S20+ coming in at 7.8mm. The new iPhone thickness is 7.4mm. Qualcomm’s next generation QTM535 would be thin enough, but it is part of the 2021 X60 platform. Apple’s quest for making the phone thinner necessitated developing a custom mmWave antenna.


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