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While Apple and Qualcomm have entered a marriage of convenience, leaving Intel jilted at the altar, there’s little doubt that the relationship between the two tech giants is a temporary alliance at best until Apple can get its own 5G modem chip business up and running.
Now it looks like Apple has been picking through the remains of Intel’s 5G smartphone business to bolster its own efforts and limit the amount of time that it will have to remain in bed with its erstwhile enemy, Qualcomm.
In a report that probably comes as little surprise, the Wall Street Journal revealed that Apple did in fact have a serious discussion with Intel about buying its smartphone modem chip business outright, although those talks are now said to have cooled.
Apple’s proposal was to acquire at least some parts of Intel’s business in a multibillion-dollar deal with would help jump-start its own efforts. What’s perhaps a bit surprising is that these talks actually started last summer, long before there was any serious indication that Intel was giving up on the business, but for reasons that are less clear, came to a sudden halt more recently, likely just before Apple decided it needed to make peace with Qualcomm instead.
Of course, now that Intel has officially exited the smartphone modem chip business, it may be up on the auction block at a significant discount. Intel is said to be “exploring strategic alternatives” for that part of its business, and sources say that a sale to Apple could still be in the cards, although there’s no indication that discussions have resumed. Intel has, however, already received expressions of interest from several parties, and has hired Goldman Sachs to manage the process.
However, Apple may have also decided that it doesn’t need Intel’s actual business if it can simply pick up the important pieces. Over the weekend, The Telegraph reported that Apple was already able to grab Intel’s lead 5G smartphone engineer, Umashankar Thyagarajan, back in February. Thyagarajan worked with Intel for almost 10 years, serving as the Chief Architect for Mobile Platforms from 2012 to 2015 before being promoted to the Senior Director of Project Engineering for 5G specifically, a role that he served in for three-and-a-half years before being scooped up by Apple.
Thyagarajan isn’t the first person to join Apple from Intel’s 5G engineering team, of course, although he may be the highest profile. According to emails shared with The Telegraph, Thyagarajan was the project engineer behind Intel’s flagship 5G modem chip, the XMM 8160. In fact, Thyagarajan’s departure is cited as the main setback in Intel’s 5G chip development efforts, and may have been the reason that the company finally had to throw in the towel.
Last summer — likely around the time that Apple began discussing a possible acquisition — the iPhone maker also gained Chuxiang Li, one of Intel’s 5G modem system leads, followed by Chung-Ching Peng in October, and undoubtedly others that have gone unreported. Unsurprisingly, the moves have accelerated since the announcement this month, with at least two more Intel 5G engineers, Bei Yin and Christian Drewes showing very recent moves to Apple.
Apple hasn’t been immune to its own setbacks, however. Earlier this month it was reported that one of Apple’s own key engineers behind its A-series chips, Gerard Williams III, is leaving the company, although Williams’ LinkedIn profile still lists him as being with Apple.