In the dynamic realm of mobile technology, the partnership between Apple and Qualcomm plays a pivotal role in fostering modem advancements. James Thompson, Qualcomm’s chief technology officer, unveiled insights into this symbiotic relationship, shedding light on the intricacies of modem development. Contrary to the notion of merely meeting Apple’s annual demands for modem updates, Qualcomm’s commitment to innovation thrives on the collaborative synergy with the tech giant.

Thompson highlighted that tailoring modems for Apple incurs a substantial cost of approximately $250 million yearly. This investment underscores Qualcomm’s dedication to delivering cutting-edge modems that align with Apple’s evolving requirements. While Apple’s insistence on yearly modem refreshes drives Qualcomm’s pace of innovation, it also fuels the broader technological landscape, propelling faster internet speeds and enhanced connectivity for users worldwide.

As the narrative unfolds, the interplay between Qualcomm and Apple unveils a tapestry of technological evolution. From the evolution of 4G chips to the advent of 5G modems heralding unprecedented download speeds, the collaborative efforts between these industry stalwarts continue to shape the future of mobile connectivity. Stay tuned as we delve deeper into the interwoven dynamics of modem innovation and collaborative progress in the tech sphere.

Wireless Innovation Unveiled

Qualcomm showcased its commitment to wireless technology advancements as they welcomed co-founder Irwin Jacobs and senior vice president Durga Malladi to discuss the company’s breakthroughs in 4G and 5G operations.

Jacobs, renowned for his contributions to mobile communication technology, shared insights into Qualcomm’s early days. He recounted the genesis of using code division multiple access (CDMA) technology for phones, a concept that struck him during a drive in San Diego. To illustrate its potential, the company ingeniously equipped a fan with the technology.

Learn About US Wireless Network Technologies

US wireless carriers operate on two primary technologies, namely CDMA and GSM. Sprint and Verizon utilize CDMA, while AT&T and T-Mobile, along with most global carriers, opt for GSM. CDMA, supported mainly by Qualcomm patents, facilitated the evolution of 3G networks for enhanced data delivery.

Diving into Qualcomm’s Technological Advancements

Qualcomm has a longstanding reputation for pioneering advancements in wireless technology. Despite this, Qualcomm perceived itself as lagging in the race to introduce 4G LTE. Demonstrations by Samsung and LG in South Korea prompted Qualcomm to accelerate the development of a 4G LTE processor, igniting a company-wide effort to bridge the gap and eventually bring the product to market.

Surprisingly, Qualcomm emerged as the sole provider of a commercial 4G LTE chip upon its release, showcasing its resilience in catching up with industry demands.

Challenges Faced by Qualcomm

In 2014, Qualcomm encountered a setback following Apple’s unveiling of a 64-bit processor for its mobile devices in late 2013. Pressure from Qualcomm’s clients pushed the company to swiftly adapt its processor to the 64-bit architecture. However, the resulting chip underperformed and failed to gain traction among consumers, leading to prominent clients like Samsung opting for their own processors over Qualcomm’s offerings.

This misstep underscored the critical importance of consistent innovation across a spectrum of technologies within the competitive mobile industry. Thompson emphasized the need for continual advancements to avoid setbacks similar to Qualcomm’s experience with the 64-bit processor.

Licensing Battle: Understanding the Qualcomm-FTC Dispute

In a significant legal battle that unfolded over the past couple of years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alongside tech giants like Apple and Intel took legal action against Qualcomm, a major player in the modem chip industry. Central to the case was the allegation that Qualcomm held a monopoly in modem chips and engaged in anti-competitive practices to maintain its dominant position.

The FTC argued that Qualcomm’s imposition of high royalty rates created barriers for competitors, resulting in limited market entry and escalated phone prices. Consequently, consumers bore the brunt of inflated handset costs due to Qualcomm’s licensing strategies.

During the trial, key industry players including Apple, Samsung, Intel, and Huawei provided testimony, shedding light on the adverse impacts of Qualcomm’s licensing tactics on the mobile sector. Expert witnesses, such as Carl Shapiro from the University of California, Berkeley, emphasized that while Qualcomm is recognized for its innovative prowess, it doesn’t exempt the company from potentially wielding monopolistic influence.

Key Points:
Qualcomm faced legal action from the FTC over alleged monopolistic practices in the modem chip industry.
The FTC contended that Qualcomm’s high royalty rates hindered competition and escalated phone prices.
Industry witnesses and experts provided insights into Qualcomm’s licensing impact on the mobile market.

Qualcomm’s Approach to Modem Development

Qualcomm’s Chief Technology Officer discussed the company’s yearly updates to standalone modems for Apple, emphasizing the significant investment of approximately $250 million annually to tailor modems to Apple’s requirements. The necessity for annual updates is driven by Apple’s preference for new modem designs each year. This practice, however, is not demanded by other customers utilizing Qualcomm’s products for data card businesses.

The deployment of the latest 5G modems in smartphones this year promises to revolutionize connectivity with download speeds up to 100 times faster than current cellular connections. While Apple customizes its application processor, it relies on third-party chips for network connectivity, transitioning from Qualcomm to Intel modems in recent iPhone models.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon line integrates modems with application processors into a single chip for its mobile customers, except for Apple, where a distinct chipset and software are developed to meet iPhone requirements. If not for Apple’s yearly modem updates, Qualcomm would extend its modem refresh cycles, releasing high-end standalone modems every two to three years instead.

In a courtroom battle with the Federal Trade Commission, Qualcomm refutes allegations of monopolistic practices, asserting its commitment to providing top-notch processors while engaging in fair licensing agreements. The company stands at the forefront of wireless technology innovation, exemplified by its CDMA technology advancements and substantial R&D investments.

The licensing battle involving Qualcomm, the FTC, Intel, and Apple scrutinizes Qualcomm’s royalty rates and market dominance. Although recognized for its technological prowess, Qualcomm faces scrutiny for potentially hindering market competition. CEO Steve Mollenkopf defends the company’s licensing strategies, emphasizing the mutual benefits for Qualcomm and smartphone manufacturers.


  1. What drives Qualcomm’s yearly updates to standalone modems for Apple?
    Qualcomm’s yearly updates are primarily motivated by Apple’s insistence on new modem designs annually.

  2. How does Qualcomm’s investment in modem development compare to other customers?
    The company invests significantly more, around $250 million, in tweaking modems for Apple compared to its other customers.

  3. Why are 5G modems significant for smartphone users?
    5G modems offer download speeds between 10 and 100 times faster than current cellular connections, enhancing overall connectivity.

  4. What role do third-party chips play in Apple’s iPhones?
    While Apple designs its application processor, it utilizes third-party chips for network connectivity, transitioning from Qualcomm to Intel modems in recent models.

  5. How does Qualcomm cater to its mobile customers other than Apple?
    Qualcomm integrates modems with application processors into a single chip for its mobile customers, known as the Snapdragon line.

  6. What would Qualcomm’s modem refresh cycles look like without Apple’s yearly updates?
    Qualcomm would extend the refresh cycles, releasing standalone high-end modems every two to three years instead.

  7. What allegations has the FTC made against Qualcomm?
    The FTC has accused Qualcomm of operating a monopoly in wireless chips and imposing excessive licensing fees on its technology.

  8. What is Qualcomm’s stance on the allegations?
    Qualcomm refutes the monopoly accusations, asserting its commitment to innovation and fair licensing practices.

  9. How does Qualcomm’s CDMA technology contribute to wireless advancements?
    Qualcomm’s CDMA technology has empowered the evolution of 3G networks, enabling data delivery and technological progress.

  10. How does Qualcomm defend its royalty rates and market dominance in the licensing battle?
    CEO Steve Mollenkopf underscores the mutual benefits of Qualcomm’s licensing practices for both the company and smartphone manufacturers.


Qualcomm’s annual updates to standalone modems for Apple underscore its commitment to innovation and customer satisfaction. The deployment of 5G modems heralds a new era of connectivity, promising remarkable speed enhancements for smartphone users. Despite facing regulatory scrutiny, Qualcomm remains steadfast in its dedication to advancing wireless technology and fostering fair business practices. As the company navigates legal challenges and market competition, it continues to prioritize technological excellence and customer partnership.

To stay informed about Qualcomm’s latest developments and innovations, visit their website for updates and insights into the future of wireless technology.