There’s no doubt that Apple is a company that plays the long game when it comes to products and technologies. After all, we’ve been hearing about the Apple Car since 2014, and it’s still not likely to see the light of day until the latter half of this new decade.
However, it’s not just big moonshot projects like self-driving cars and augmented reality headsets that Apple spends years working on. It also needs to stay ahead when it comes to the underlying technologies that go into its mainstream products like the iPhone, and nowhere is this more important than when it comes to evolving cellular technology standards.
In fact, this is even more significant now that Apple has clearly been working to develop its own cellular modem chips to reduce its dependency upon others. For many years, Apple sourced the chips that drove the cellular communications in the iPhone and iPad from other companies like Qualcomm and Intel, but that got very messy a couple of years ago, and after a protracted legal battle, Apple was forced to return to Qualcomm with hat in hand and cut a deal to have enough 5G modem chips ready for the iPhone 12 lineup last year.
Of course, such an arrangement surely stuck in Apple’s craw — especially when considering how much the iPhone maker likes to own all the important pieces of its products. Apple had of course already been working on its own 5G modem chips long before things came to a head with Qualcomm, and after Intel dropped out of the 5G game, Apple picked up the wreckage of the chip-maker to help bolster its efforts.
While Apple is likely to have its own 5G chip in an iPhone within the next couple of years, it’s clear that it also isn’t planning to be caught off-guard when the next generation of cellular technology arrives a few years down the road, and it’s already hiring engineers to develop its own approach to the emerging standard.
Technologies for the Next Decade
In a series of job ads spotted by Bloomberg, Apple is looking for some wireless system research engineers who want to work on the bleeding edge of cellular technology, noting that they’ll specifically be responsible to “research and design next generation (6G) wireless communication systems.”
In this role you will be at the center of a cutting-edge research group responsible for creating next generation disruptive radio access technologies over the next decade.Apple job posting
To give you an idea of how long-term this project is, 6G isn’t expected to even begin rolling out until around 2030, but it’s clear that Apple wants to be ready when it does.
It goes beyond just being prepared, however. Right now, 6G technology is in its nascent stages — we’re not yet even close to a final standard — so by hiring a team of research engineers, Apple will be able to get in on the ground floor to help influence the development of the new technology through the alliances and industry working groups that the iPhone maker is already a part of.
This could allow Apple to lead the march into 6G technology by the time it arrives, and with the chip engineering expertise that Apple already has on board, it’s not hard to imagine the company doing the same thing to Qualcomm in the field of modem chips as it’s just done to Intel CPUs with its new M1 chip.
At this point it’s really hard to say what 6G technology is even going to bring to the table, since the standards are still very preliminary, but many experts are predicting 6G speeds that could be over 100 times faster than even the fastest mmWave 5G.
Further, as Bloomberg noted earlier this month in another report, the hope of 6G technology on the horizon is already leading to a geopolitical arms race between the U.S. and China, as each country tries to ensure that it will have the lead when it comes to the kind of wireless technology that could finally usher in an era of ubiquitous, “always-on” connectivity, with the bandwidth to deliver the kind of connectivity that’s previously been in the exclusive realm of science fiction.
For Apple’s part, however, the move is really just another push into making sure that it has full control over all the most important pieces of its products. While we’ll almost certainly see Apple’s first 5G modem arrive in the iPhone long before 6G even begins to shape up into a real standard, by the time the more advanced technology gets here, there’s no doubt that Apple will have become a major player behind the scenes too.