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Rumor: Apple plans to bring iPhone baseband chip design in-house

post #1 of 32
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A rumor from the Far East on Tuesday claims Apple is mulling the creation of a research and development team that will be responsible for designing future iPhone baseband processors to be used as soon as 2015.


iPhone 5s logic board with Qualcomm baseband chipset. | Source: iFixit


Citing industry sources, DigiTimes reports Apple is planning to develop an in-house baseband processor to be used in 2015 iPhone models. The component will supposedly to be produced by Samsung and Globalfoundries.

One of the most important pieces of silicon in a cellphone, the baseband chip, or baseband processor, manages all on-board radio functions. Currently, Qualcomm supplies Apple with BPs used in both the iPhone and iPad product lineups.

The publication mentions a separate rumor that claims Apple is looking to incorporate a baseband processor into its A-series application processor, though sources say the company will stick with two discrete chips for now.

Tuesday's rumor lines up with Apple's ongoing efforts to exert tighter control over the design and manufacturing of chips used in its product lineup. Most recently, the company was reportedly in talks to take a $479 million stake in Japanese chipmaker Renesas SP Drivers, which is said to be the sole supplier of LCD chips for the iPhone.
post #2 of 32

Digitimes! my fav.

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post #3 of 32
The power-saving potential here is tremendous. This is where Apple could set itself apart from the rest yet again.

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post #4 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

The power-saving potential here is tremendous. This is where Apple could set itself apart from the rest yet again.

hmm... how about Qualcomm?

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post #5 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by snova View Post

hmm... how about Qualcomm?

Could you elaborate.

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post #6 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by snova View Post

hmm... how about Qualcomm?

Could you elaborate.

Qualcomm has all the pieces to do the same.

So does Intel. 

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post #7 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by snova View Post

Qualcomm has all the pieces to do the same.
So does Intel.

They also have all the parts to make their own ARM SoCs but since they build for others and try to cast the widest possible net they aren't designing a bespoke chip that will work specifically with Apple's HW and OS. That's the difference Apple can bring by building a baseband chip designed to work with their HW and only their HW, something that perhaps Samsung could also do because they do sell their higher-end devices in the millions but I don't see how anyone else could do it. We're talking size and power and reductions already, but if Apple can make it a PoP as part of their A-series chips they could really push this to the next level.

If you still don't think so then tell me Qualcomm's Snapdragon isn't wiping the floor with Apple's A-series chips and why Apple has spent hundreds of millions if not billions investing in their own chips.

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post #8 of 32

I hate to say this but I think its best to keep Qualcomm as a vendor, then to piss them off and make them a competitor.   They are a royality revenue generating monster when it comes to do with anything related to wireless.  Apple would be best to avoid that fight. 

 

case in point, look at why Samsung uses Snapdragon and Qualcomm baseband only in US Galaxy S models and their own SoC elsewhere. 

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post #9 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by snova View Post

I hate to say this but I think its best to keep Qualcomm as a vendor, then to piss them off and make them a competitor.   They are a royality revenue generating monster when it comes to do with anything related to wireless. 

Apple did buy those Nortel patents for reason but because of Qualcomm's patent holdings it's hard for me to see how any baseband HW will not include components or IP from Qualcomm. I also don't think it's unreasonable for Qualcomm to allow Apple to pay for access to certain parts of the baseband that it can integrate into their own design. Last year Qualcomm stopped requiring their MDM9x15 to be paired with a Qualcomm SoC for voice capabilities. According to AnandTech, this "opens it up for use in platforms like the iPhone where an OEM has a specific non-Qualcomm SoC it wants to use. This same IP block is again shared with MSM8960 and a few other SoCs." Who know what else they could allow or why they opened this up at all. Was that change last year because of Apple?

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post #10 of 32

I hope this is true, I have been hoping for this for a long long time. And even 2015 is late.

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

The power-saving potential here is tremendous. This is where Apple could set itself apart from the rest yet again.

There is possible power saving. But definitely not tremendous. And i would bet Apple's design won be as good as Qualcomm as well.

 

Qualcomm's baseband, transceiver, receiver, RF Filter are state of the art. The only possible technical improvement Apple could bring is by potentially ditching some flavor of technology that dont want to support, or potentially design for LTE only. But even those benefits will be small.

 

The major potential here is cost reduction. Apart from the Screen and Touch Display, the next most expensive piece of technology is the Wireless Related parts. For Apple to add anymore value, such as Sapphire Screen without increasing the selling price of iPhone there has to be a reduction somewhere.

 

The estimate cost of BaseBand parts currently stands somewhere from $28 - $35. With the majority of estimate going at the higher end range.  Apple could potentially make one themselves in TSMC for less then $15. R&D cost excluded.

 

There are already a few IP company offering 4G solution, although as far as i am concern none of them are anywhere as good as Qualcomm or even Intel's offering.

post #11 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by ksec View Post

Qualcomm's baseband, transceiver, receiver, RF Filter are state of the art.

So are their Snapdragon SoCs but Apple built their own and it's clearly proving Apple's bespoke designs are better suited for Apple's own needs so why assume it's not reasonable for Apple to use their talents to streamline other generalized chips in their system?

These arguments sound the same as the ones that said Apple is foolish for making a smartphone and Apple is foolish for buying a fabless semiconductor company.

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post #12 of 32
I think Apple are more likely to add in wireless radio (Bluetooth/WiFi) functionality on-chip before they go down the incredibly complicated integrated baseband route. They already have Imagination Technologies graphics and video processing IP to which they could also add their Ensigma programmable radio IP. Makes a lot more sense.
post #13 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by snova View Post

Qualcomm has all the pieces to do the same.
So does Intel. 

What if Apple has plans for some kind of communication device that is unique and they want to keep it under wraps until the last moment? They could keep it disguised as a project to knock off the Qualcomm chip....
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post #14 of 32

I'm not an engineer so I'm just guessing, but these radio processors must be one of the main power hogs after the LCD and CPU. As someone alluded to above, it's likely one of the more expensive parts as well. In other words, there's a lot of motivation for Apple to take this in-house. Reductions in power consumption and cost would offset new innovations such as the sapphire glass.

post #15 of 32
It makes a lot of sense to eventually integrated the baseband processor into the A series CPU/GPU (to improve performance, battery life, reliability, and reduce cost). Designing their own discrete baseband processor would be the obvious incremental step along that path.
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post #16 of 32

I can't see Apple doing this without first buying a baseband design house. It's a very specialist industry.

 

Oh, wait, the rumour is from DigiTimes. Nevermind!

post #17 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by bugsnw View Post
 

I'm not an engineer so I'm just guessing, but these radio processors must be one of the main power hogs after the LCD and CPU. As someone alluded to above, it's likely one of the more expensive parts as well. In other words, there's a lot of motivation for Apple to take this in-house. Reductions in power consumption and cost would offset new innovations such as the sapphire glass.

 

The modem is one of the more expensive components but the main cost is licensing. That's not a cost that Apple can realistically drive down.

 

There's certainly other advantages for bringing it in house though. Simply being able to define and control the interface between the AP and modem would probably make Apple's engineers very happy.

post #18 of 32

What Apple realizes is that if they buy a chip from Infineon or Qualcomm or Broadcom, their competitors will have the exact same chip and can make close to the same phone. That's the Android market. Everybody has nearly the same phone, just with different shovelware. Or the PC market.

 

Apple is not the first company to realize this. Cisco does the exact same thing, they roll their own chips. Their weakest competitors, a bunch of minor players like 3Com, all lost when the Chinese Huawei bought off the shelf router chips and made a cheap product. Then companies like Google and Facebook realized they could roll their own router from the reference design and cut out the middlemen all together.

post #19 of 32
I've said this in other threads but will say it again, silicon today is what the printed circuit board was a few decades ago. It is where you out your engineering to remain competitive.

As for Apple not having the expertise I'm not sure I buy that either. Over the past few years they have acquired a bunch of IP and more than a few engineers from failed companies. What they don't have engineering wise they can easily hire.

As for reasoning here, one only has to look at the micro photography's of some of Qualcomms processors to see why this is a reasonable story in and of itself. The space savings alone are huge and would allow for far more design flexibility for Apple. Think doubling flash storage or making access wider (faster). This is nothing new for the likes of Qualcomm and a process shrink frees up a tremendous amount of space for new transistor functionality. The only real question here is what is taking Apple so long.
post #20 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

As for Apple not having the expertise I'm not sure I buy that either. Over the past few years they have acquired a bunch of IP and more than a few engineers from failed companies. What they don't have engineering wise they can easily hire.

 

It's really not that easy. (Good) baseband engineers are a rare breed. There's a few companies that Apple could hire from locally but raising a whole department of engineers is going to be a slow process... unless Apple buys a company with existing expertise. 

post #21 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


So are their Snapdragon SoCs but Apple built their own and it's clearly proving Apple's bespoke designs are better suited for Apple's own needs so why assume it's not reasonable for Apple to use their talents to streamline other generalized chips in their system?

These arguments sound the same as the ones that said Apple is foolish for making a smartphone and Apple is foolish for buying a fabless semiconductor company.

 

You are comparing Apple to Orange. Did any one ever said Snapdragon were ever state of the art? Surely it isn't to me. And i could foresee huge amount of headroom and potential for improvement in those. 

And there is nothing generalized in those baseband chips. Unless you count GSM and CDMA as uesless. Which i would doubt Apple dropping it.

 

The technical improvement coming from the hardware baseband in house are minimal at best. The benefits ( both cost and power consumption ) are likely coming from the Integration inside the SoC rather then housing it as an seperate unit. 

Quote:
 The modem is one of the more expensive components but the main cost is licensing. That's not a cost that Apple can realistically drive down.

Well LG and Nvidia ( Icera ) have both managed to make a Software defined solution support full stack LTE without paying. And even a licensed hardware solution doesn't cost that much, at least MediaTek will have a SoC with LTE support selling for less then $25.


Edited by ksec - 4/8/14 at 2:58am
post #22 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

The power-saving potential here is tremendous. This is where Apple could set itself apart from the rest yet again.

Not to mention the money-saving potential. The iPhone 5S wireless chips at $32 are second only to the display and touch ($41) costs in the BOM. Wireless is about 17% of the total BOM cost of $191.

http://technology.ihs.com/451425/groundbreaking-iphone-5s-carries-199-bom-and-manufacturing-cost-ihs-teardown-reveals
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post #23 of 32
Apple needs to integrate it into their SOC for power savings. Qualcomm sells them discrete chips, or within one of their SOCs. This is obviously not to Apple's liking. I always thought apple would license a core of some sort from qualcomm and integrate it, but in reality this is their last big advantage they have over the A-series seeing that they do not own the compilers, OS, devices, etc.

Remember, apple is not going to just take telecom 101 and walk into a lab with a soldering iron. They will end up with what they want sooner or later.
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post #24 of 32
Would be interesting to see if that team focuses on silicon on sapphire (SOS) technologies. With Apple's drive to sapphire I wouldn't be surprised. It would make for better power consumption, better signal reception, and could support enough RF band so they could build a 'one iPhone works everywhere in the world' chip.

Currently there are better SOS variants out there than current phones use. They don't get much utilization because they are still priced substantially higher and existing technologies are viewed as 'good enough'

Going beyond 'good enough' to deliver a better technology at higher price sounds pretty consistent with Apple, and with their increased volumes of sapphire capabilities it might be an avenue they can explore.
post #25 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by Frood View Post

Would be interesting to see if that team focuses on silicon on sapphire (SOS) technologies. With Apple's drive to sapphire I wouldn't be surprised. It would make for better power consumption, better signal reception, and could support enough RF band so they could build a 'one iPhone works everywhere in the world' chip.

Currently there are better SOS variants out there than current phones use. They don't get much utilization because they are still priced substantially higher and existing technologies are viewed as 'good enough'

Going beyond 'good enough' to deliver a better technology at higher price sounds pretty consistent with Apple, and with their increased volumes of sapphire capabilities it might be an avenue they can explore.

Yes!

If Apple does SoS, I suspect that their first iteration will be a separate chip -- rather than part of the Ax APU. A wireless radio (Cell, WiFi, BT, GPS) would seem a natural first step.
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post #26 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by snova View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

 
Quote:
Originally Posted by snova View Post

hmm... how about Qualcomm?


Could you elaborate.
Qualcomm has all the pieces to do the same.
So does Intel. 

So it seems does Samsung.
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post #27 of 32
Apple's expertise points in this direction. They are able to do what few others can: iPhone or Mac on a chip eventually.
post #28 of 32

Here is something I heard which I believe is true about Apple's SoC design, unlike Intel and companies like Broadcom and Qualcomm, they all have to make products which work with a wide verity of application and customer and they automate much of their design. They do no have the time to thoroughly optimize the design so it all things to all people, but does not do any of it was well as it could.

 

Apple on the other hand only has to worry about its SoC working in Apple products and only has feature in it that only apple uses and has nothing extra to bleed off performance and resources to make it work. Where most silicon chips are auto-routed to same time, apple hand routes the chip so they are optimizing the overall performance of the chip. This has benefits form speed, heat and power which the guys who automate the task.

 

I believe the above to be true since I seen an analysis of a tear-down of Apple SoC, they could do the same with the Baseband chips as well and possible get ride of performance robbing piece of the design which you know exist


Edited by Maestro64 - 4/8/14 at 8:31am
post #29 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by dugbug View Post

Apple needs to integrate it into their SOC for power savings. Qualcomm sells them discrete chips, or within one of their SOCs. This is obviously not to Apple's liking. I always thought apple would license a core of some sort from qualcomm and integrate it, but in reality this is their last big advantage they have over the A-series seeing that they do not own the compilers, OS, devices, etc.

Remember, apple is not going to just take telecom 101 and walk into a lab with a soldering iron. They will end up with what they want sooner or later.

 

Like the A series chip in a laptop, desktop, or server. Ha..Ha...Ha....

post #30 of 32

There is little debate over should they or shouldn't they. We all know full well that Apple will only do it themselves if they can MATCH or exceed performance, while also gaining other benefits such as cost/size/power.

post #31 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by pmz View Post
 

There is little debate over should they or shouldn't they. We all know full well that Apple will only do it themselves if they can MATCH or exceed performance, while also gaining other benefits such as cost/size/power.

 

Apple's is probably motivated to make it more difficult for the competition to follow, higher margins, smaller thinner designs and long term a seat at the table to have a say on future modem development/standards.

post #32 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by bugsnw View Post
 

I'm not an engineer so I'm just guessing, but these radio processors must be one of the main power hogs after the LCD and CPU. As someone alluded to above, it's likely one of the more expensive parts as well. In other words, there's a lot of motivation for Apple to take this in-house. Reductions in power consumption and cost would offset new innovations such as the sapphire glass.

 

I would pile on in that building your own baseband chip that is 

a) Designed to the rest of your chipset, and OS

      delivering better internal performance (speed)

      delivering better operating performance (power consumption)

 

b) possibly dis-integrated and 're-integrated' into your chipset

      partnering with chips in a way that offloads stuff like the M7 works with the A7

      

c) optimized to your specific set of bands and protocols.

      Introduce apple only radio based functions (patented local low power networks for things like iRing/iWatch,iEarring,iNose ring)

      iBeacon V2 technology

      Mesh networking

      Pcell networking

 

I wouldn't think they would do this just to save a few bucks.  Any chip Apple builds  would be all about separating iDevices

from all competitors.

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