Huawei’s Kirin 990 SoC Is the First Chip With an Integrated 5G Modem


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Huawei’s year has been anything but good, but the company has pushed ahead with new technology introductions and smartphone designs. The Chinese firm has now announced its latest SoC, the Kirin 990. The new chip will ship in two flavors — the Kirin 990, and the Kirin 990 5G. These two chips are based on the same SoC design, but there are some significant differences between them.

First, the Kirin 990 5G is built on TSMC’s 7nm+ process node, which utilizes EUV. The Kirin 990, in contrast, is a standard 7nm design. It seems as though Huawei will be the first customer to ship a part that uses EUV for manufacturing. Huawei’s stated reason for using EUV for the 5G variant is that it allowed for a smaller die. Die size on the 5G part is larger than 100mm2, while the LTE chip is less than 90mm2. Transistor counts are also significantly different, with the LTE chip at 8B and the 5G chip at 10.3B.

Kirin-990-Comparison

One interesting fact that Anandtech mentions is that the Kirin 990 was originally expected to use ARM’s Cortex-A77 CPU, not the Cortex-A76. Apparently the Huawei team didn’t like how the Cortex-A77 clocked on TSMC’s 7nm process node. The A77 had higher peak performance, but overall power efficiency between the A76 and A77 was practically identical on 7nm and the A76 design was capable of hitting much higher clocks. Supposedly the A77 tops out around 2.2GHz on 7nm at the moment and the design may not be used widely until 5nm CPUs are available.

The new ARM Mali-G76 implementation is substantially wider than the 10-core implementation used on the previous generation Kirin 980. GPU power efficiency can often be improved by using a wider GPU clocked at lower frequencies, and Huawei believes the new GPU design will still be more power-efficient than the old Kirin 980, despite being substantially wider.

The NPU design is a homegrown Huawei effort. Where the company previously licensed an NPU from Cambricon, the new Kirin 990 uses Huawei’s Da Vinci architecture. Huawei intends to scale this AI processing block from servers to smartphones. It supports both INT8 and FP16 on both cores, whereas the older Cambricon design could only perform INT8 on one core. There’s also a new ‘Tiny Core’ NPU. It’s a smaller version of the Da Vinci architecture focused on power efficiency above all else, and it can be used for polling or other applications where performance isn’t particularly time critical. The 990 5G will have two “big” NPU cores and a single Tiny Core, while the Kirin 990 (LTE) has one big core and one tiny core.

Huawei’s Balong modem will support sub-6GHz 5G signals with a maximum of 2.3Gbps download and 1.25Gbps upload. Overall CPU performance improvements from the Kirin 980 to the Kirin 990 are modest — Huawei claims single-threaded gains of 9 percent and multi-threaded boosts of 10 percent. Power efficiency, however, has improved significantly. The top-end cores are supposedly 12 percent more efficient, the “middle” cores of Huawei’s Big.Little.littlest are supposedly 35 percent more efficient, and the low-end Cortex-A55 chips are 15 percent more efficient. Most workloads are supposed to run on the middle cores for maximum performance/watt.

It seems unlikely that these devices will come to the US market in any numbers, though you may be able to buy them from third-party resellers if the Trump Administration doesn’t take further action against the company. While devices are going to start carrying 5G modems from this point forward, I’ve yet to see a 5G phone I’d actually recommend. While it’s true that the first generation of LTE devices didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory, the first generation of LTE devices didn’t overheat and shutdown when summer temperatures rose above 85F / 29.4C. They didn’t require you to be literally standing underneath an LTE access point in order to see faster service, either. Verizon has already stated that outside city centers, its 5G network will closely resemble “good 4G,” which raises the question of what, exactly, consumers are paying all this money for.

The first LTE devices were the HTC Evo 4G, the Samsung Craft, and the HTC Thunderbolt. They sold for $200, $350, and $250, respectively, though this was in the era of two-year contracts. Apple’s first LTE device was the iPhone 5, which cost $649 if purchased without a contract. Assuming Apple and the other AndroidSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce manufacturers continue to offer 5G as a luxury feature, we’ll likely only see it on devices at or above the $1000 price point for the next 12 months. I wouldn’t pay $1000 for a phone under any circumstances, but I definitely wouldn’t step up to a $1000+ device to buy a feature that I’ve got no chance of using at any point in the next few years.

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There Are Rumors Apple Will Soon Resurrect the iPhone SE


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It’s rumored that Apple could resurrect the iPhone SE in 2020, partly as a competitive measure to take market share from low-end Android device manufacturers. The iPhone SE, which was introduced in 2016 at a base price of $400 (it later fell to $350), was built on the same form factor as Apple’s iPhone 5S. The small-screened device was never a huge sales driver, but it found a fan base with small device enthusiasts and people looking for a lower-cost Apple device with good performance and excellent battery life. When Apple decided to jack up its prices, it unceremoniously killed the SE, removing it from the product lists without even an acknowledgment.

This has been a sore spot for a lot of fans ever since. Now, Nikkei reports that Apple may bring the product back — at least, sort-of. This “new” SE wouldn’t be based on the iPhone 5S, but would instead use the slightly larger iPhone 8 as a point of reference. Nikkei writes that Apple is reportedly considering the move as a chance to reverse pressure on its sales, which have been falling. The company is now the third-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, having lost the number two spot to Huawei. Sales of the iPhone SE were supposedly 30 million in 2016 and a further 10 million from 2017 – 2018.

Apple has reportedly cut its production run of new retail iPhones this year by about 10 percent compared with previous years, reflecting the fact that the company doesn’t expect strong performance. The smartphone market has slowed globally and the ongoing US-China trade war has harmed commerce between the two countries. The rumor mill around the next-generation iPhone has mostly focused on how ugly the devices are, and how limited the new feature set is. Apple won’t have a 5G device in-market until 2020 at the earliest, although given the terrible performance of 5G products, that’s probably a genuinely good thing. Right now, I consider a 5G-enabled smartphone to be much less appealing than an LTE variant. High prices, limited range, and the fact that these devices fail if exposed to ambient temperatures above 85F make them distinctly undesirable.

As 9to5 Mac notes, however, refreshing the iPhone SE as an iPhone 8 form factor means the device won’t really be an iPhone SE at all. Refreshing the body of the iPhone 8 with internals from current iPhones, keeping cost-conscious factors like the LCD, and dumping some capabilities is exactly what the SE was, but it won’t be the same size and shape. This is true. In fact, I do prefer the size of the SE, even compared with a device like the iPhone 8. But I also recognize that part of the reason the SE featured the iPhone 5S design was probably because Apple had chassis sitting around that it could get cheap. Re-using iPhone 8 components is part of what makes this device cheaper for the company to build, and it’s probably why they do things this way.

An iPhone 8-sized SE would be a little larger than I might like, but I won’t deny that the larger screen would also be a little nicer. I can still use the device in one hand, even if it isn’t quite as comfortable. So long as the iPhone SE 2 keeps the battery life and lower price point, I can see getting behind this product — assuming these rumors actually come true.

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The 5G OnePlus 7 Pro Finally Launches in the US on Sprint


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OnePlus announced the OnePlus 7 Pro earlier this year, and it was a big step for the company. Not only did this phone sport a pop-up selfie camera an high-refresh display, but it also had an optional 5G radio. However, the 5G variant wasn’t available in the US until now. OnePlus just partnered with Sprint to launch its first 5G phone in the US. 

In case you need a refresher, the OnePlus 7 Pro is the latest phone from the Shenzhen-based company and the second with US carrier support. It previously partnered with T-Mobile for the OnePlus 6T and 4G OnePlus 7 Pro. The OnePlus 7 Pro has many of the same features as phones from Samsung and Google that cost hundreds of dollars more. It has a Snapdragon 855, up to 12GB of RAM, and a 6.67-inch OLED screen with a 90Hz refresh rate. Almost the only box it didn’t check was 5G support, and now it has that in the US if you’re on Sprint. 

5G in the US is still a mess as carriers scramble to roll out millimeter-wave networks. These signals can transmit a lot of data, which is how Verizon is able to show off speeds of 1 to 2 Gbps on a phone. However, millimeter-wave requires line-of-sight to the transmitter. So, it works in outdoor spaces and large indoor facilities like stadiums that have been outfitted with antennas. 

The US is severely lacking in lower frequency mid-band 5G, sometimes called sub-6. In most countries, these frequencies form the backbone of fledgling 5G networks, and that’s what the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G supported at launch. The phone came to several European markets like the UK and Finland. Since then, Sprint has launched a US 5G market using 2.5GHz bands, and that supports the OnePlus 7 Pro. 

5g-spectrum

5G is being deployed in two distinct sets of spectrum, with very different characteristics.

Unlike many 5G phones, the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G is identical to the 4G version save for the additional modem inside. You’ll be able to pick up the OnePlus 7 Pro from Sprint in any of the nine markets where it has launched 5G service starting today. However, it’s more expensive than the 4G version you can order from OnePlus or T-Mobile. The 5G phone is $840, or you can lease the phone for $20 per month. The 4G phone starts at $700, and it’s unlocked. Sprint says all its stores will have the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G for sale starting September 6th. 

Sprint and T-Mobile are planning for a merger that will see the smaller carrier swallowed up by “The New T-Mobile.” Those mid-band 5G licenses are very important to T-Mobile. It’s unclear how T-Mobile will migrate people to its network, so you might want to exercise caution before buying an expensive new phone on Sprint.

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Verizon is teaming with Boingo to bring 5G inside – gpgmail


We’ve long known that 5G rollout wouldn’t happen overnight. But now that carriers have gotten things started, they’ve been confronted with pushback against the next-gen wireless technology’s limitations. Among the bigger issues is spotty coverage indoors — you know that place where most of us spend most of our time?

Verizon’s looking to address the issue by partnering with Boingo — a name that ought to prove familiar for anyone who’s attempted to get on WiFi at an airport. The carrier (which is, incidentally, also our parent company) says it’s teaming with the wireless provider to expand coverage in hard to reach spots, including stadiums, offices, hotels and those aforementioned airports.

“Verizon and Boingo are working together to architect a hyper-dense network designed for large and small indoor spaces as part of Verizon’s ongoing 5G network expansions,” per the carrier.

There are still plenty of questions, including how quickly and when those rollouts will start. One assumes they begin in cities where Verizon has already begun to deliver 5G in places. That list now includes 10 cities, with greater Phoenix joining the others. The usual caveats of 5G apply here, with the tech still be limited to certain areas/neighborhoods. Those are as follows,

Initially, Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband service will be concentrated in Downtown Phoenix around several well-known landmarks, including: Phoenix Convention Center, Talking Stick Resort Arena, The Orpheum Theatre, CityScape, and Chase Field. It will also be available in Tempe, on the Arizona State University campus.

Tomorrow Verizon also adds another 5G device to its portfolio with its limited time exclusive on the Galaxy Note 10+ 5G.


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The 5G Moto Mod Is Now Compatible With the Moto Z2 Force From 2017


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Motorola was technically the first company to offer a 5G phone, but it wasn’t actually a new phone. Its 5G Moto Mod on Verizon added 5G capability to the Moto Z3 earlier this year, and it later expanded to the newer Moto Z4. Now, Motorola and Verizon have expanded 5G Mod support in the other direction, all the way back to the Moto Z2 Force. 

By most measures, the Moto Z2 Force was the company’s last true flagship Z-series phone. Last year’s Moto Z3 had a lower resolution screen and hardware that was already a year out of date. The Moto Z4 stepped down to mid-range specs, indicating Motorola’s lack of confidence in Mods going forward. However, Verizon is extremely invested in the 5G Mod to promote its burgeoning 5G network. 

The Moto Z2 Force sports a 1440p OLED with a shatter-proof coating, dual cameras, and a Snapdragon 835 chip. It works with all of Motorola’s Mod attachments which feature batteries, speakers, a projector, a camera, and more. Motorola hasn’t launched a new Mod since the 5G collaboration with Verizon in early 2019. Since the Z2 Force was shatter-proof, there are probably still a fair number of them floating around. Now, they can get 5G. 

The Moto Z2 Force is almost indistinguishable from other Moto Mod-capable phones.

Android device makers have a hard time updating phones that are more than a year or two old, so how can this new piece of hardware work with a circa-2017 phone? The 5G Moto Mod includes almost all the components you’d find in a phone — it’s not just a 5G modem in a case. It has a Snapdragon 855 system-on-a-chip (SoC), the same thing powering phones like the Galaxy Note 10. However, it’s not there to crunch bits on the phone. You just need the 855 to support the Qualcomm X50 5G modem that’s also packed inside the Mod. There are also multiple antennas and a battery. 

The 5G Moto Mod attaches to the back of the company’s Verizon-branded phones only, giving them access to super-fast millimeter wave 5G, but only in a few cities. The range on millimeter wave 5G is also very limited, and it doesn’t pass through walls. So, you need to have line-of-sight to the cell tower to use the 5G Mod or any of Verizon’s newer 5G phones. That said, it’s cool that owners of a phone from 2017 can get 5G for a relative pittance compared to the $1,200+ asking price for new 5G phones.

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Verizon Admits Your 5G Service Might Be More Like ‘Good 4G’


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All the major US carriers are deploying 5G of some sort right now, and you can expect to be bombarded with ads touting 5G soon. Verizon was the first to roll out a 5G network with phones for consumers, and now it’s admitting that the 5G many people get won’t change the world. According to Verizon Consumer Group CEO Ronan Dunne, 5G networks in rural areas won’t feel much different than 4G LTE. 

Verizon and AT&T started their 5G deployments with millimeter wave spectrum. That’s what all the early tests of 5G networks used, which is how phones like the Galaxy S10 5G can reach incredible multi-gigabit speeds. T-Mobile has also started a millimeter-wave rollout, but it has heavily criticized Verizon for its focus on that spectrum. Without lower band frequencies, T-Mobile executives claim, 5G is not a viable technology. 

Verizon does plan to use some lower-frequency 5G, but it’s downplaying the importance. Millimeter-wave networks in dense urban areas make 5G feel substantially different than 4G. These signals (20GHz and higher) don’t propagate far, but they pack in a lot of data. On the other hand, frequencies in the lower bands (1GHz and below) travel a long way and through obstacles. Devices will only get a few hundred megabits from low-band signals at most, which is within the realm of what you can do with 4G. 

Verizon’s early 5G efforts include home internet service.

5G is fast right now because no one is using it. As more devices connect, the average speed per user will drop. 5G should resist congestion better than 4G, but there will still be an impact, and Verizon says millimeter wave will handle it better. This part of the spectrum is also less congested, so carriers have larger blocks of frequencies allocated. While Verizon has about 1,000 MHz of millimeter wave spectrum, most rural communities will be making do with a tenth as much in the low-bands. 

So, maybe you don’t need to be getting your hopes up for 5G service. It’ll either be very fast and hard to find or barely faster than LTE. Carriers are very excited, though. Verizon’s Dunne talks excitedly about the possibility of creating different 5G “experiences” like a gamer plan or a day trader plan. The carrier will no doubt charge more money for more valuable services, and 5G allows more devices to share the network. Exciting, right?

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The Galaxy Note 10+ 5G May Have Very Limited 5G Band Support in the US


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Samsung has announced the Galaxy Note 10 and 10+ after many months of speculation, and this launch marks a new approach to 5G. With the Galaxy S10 launch, there was a completely different piece of hardware for 5G, but the Note 10 and 10+ both come in 5G variants. However, the band support is shaping up to be a complete mess with some carriers supporting one type of 5G and others using frequencies that barely exist on their networks. 

According to PCMag, Samsung is still scrambling to put the finishing touches on the 5G modems it will use in the Note 10. Verizon gets first dibs on the Galaxy Note 10+ 5G (the smaller Note 10 5G is exclusive to South Korea for now). It will have the same Qualcomm X50 5G modem we’ve seen in devices like the Galaxy S10 5G and 5G Moto Mod. It will run on millimeter wave 5G in eight cities just like previous 5G phones. We don’t know yet if it will overheat when the outside ambient temperature exceeds ~85F / 29C. The currently-available solutions, which do overheat, are also based on the Qualcomm X50. 

Verizon’s millimeter wave 5G network is very fast with speeds over 1Gbps. However, coverage is extremely limited because of the high frequencies involved (28 and 39GHz). It’s similar for the early millimeter wave networks operated by AT&T and T-Mobile. Those carriers are hoping to fill in the gaps with low-frequency 5G similar to LTE, but speeds will top out around 100Mbps. 

PCMag reports that T-Mobile and AT&T will have versions of the Note 10+ 5G that only operate on these lower frequencies via the new X55 5G modem — they plan to start rolling out low-band 5G late this year. The X50 lacks support for low-frequency, but it sounds like the X55 can’t do both low-band and millimeter wave at the same time. 

A 5G millimeter wave cell site in Minneapolis on a light pole.

Sprint is in a good place with 5G, which is why T-Mobile is acquiring the carrier. Its mid-band 5G (2.5GHz) is faster than low-band, but has much better coverage than millimeter wave. Sprint will have a Galaxy Note 10+ 5G later this year as well, but it will have to choose whether it wants low-band and mid-band (the X55) or millimeter wave and mid-band (the X50). 

Qualcomm has been pushing the X55 has a modem that can do both low and high-band 5G, but Samsung hasn’t been able to make that work yet. Perhaps it’s something to do with the antenna setup? There are a lot of unknowns, and the 5G situation may change by later this year when carriers get the Note 10+ 5G. 

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Huawei’s first 5G phone goes on sale in China next month – gpgmail


Huawei on Friday announced the upcoming release of its first 5G handset in its home market. Following on the heels of its UK debut, the Mate 20 X is currently up for pre-order, with an expected China arrival of August 16.

The handset beats the foldable Mate X to market, in spite of that handset having made its debut way back at Mobile World Congress in February. Of course, companies are understandably cautious about foldable in the wake of the mess with the Samsung Galaxy Fold, which finally got an approximate release date last week.

China Mobile flipped the switch on its Huawei-powered 5G transport network late last month, with commercial rollout expected to begin in October. In June, China Telecom and China Unicom were also granted licenses to operate commercial 5G networks, after some delay. Last week, ZTE’s Axon 10 Pro 5G went up for presale in its native China, as well.

Until rollout begins, those purchasing 5G handsets will have to rely on older networks like the rest of us, putting the U.S. and China in similar boats on that front. Of course, security concerns have put both Huawei and ZTE in the crosshairs internationally, particularly North America.

Huawei has reportedly been looking to build much of its own hardware and software in house, particularly in the wake of a ban on its use offerings from U.S. companies. Notably it also announced a $436 million investment in building out an ecosystem around its Arm-based Kunpeng server chip.


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The T-Mobile/Sprint Merger Finally Has Federal Approval


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T-Mobile and Sprint announced their intention to merge more than a year ago, but the behind-the-scenes legal wrangling delayed the federal approval. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) got on-board with the deal months ago, but the Department of Justice (DOJ) was more skeptical. The carriers have now agreed to terms with the DOJ that allow the merger to move forward. 

While the deal is billed as a merger, T-Mobile plans to swallow up the smaller carrier completely. The Sprint brand will go away, and the new carrier will simply be known as “T-Mobile.” The sticking point for the DOJ was the loss of a fourth wireless carrier in the US. Even those in favor of the deal had to admit that dropping to three US carriers had the potential to limit competition and raise prices. Although, T-Mobile and Sprint disagreed. The solution was a deal with Dish, which has been a sideline player in mobile for years. 

As part of the merger, Sprint and T-Mobile will sell assets including 800MHz spectrum and the Boost Mobile prepaid carrier to Dish. While its main business is still satellite TV, Dish has purchased massive swaths of wireless spectrum in recent years — it has almost as much spectrum as the pre-merger T-Mobile, but it doesn’t have a wireless network. The assets from this deal theoretically allow Dish to become a fourth carrier. The new T-Mobile has agreed to give Dish access to its network for the next few years while it builds out a 5G network, but it seems like Dish would prefer just to get acquired by another company. 

A 5G millimeter wave cell site in Minneapolis on a light pole.

Getting federal approval for the merger is a major win for T-Mobile, even with the forced divestments to Dish. Sprint has struggled to compete in the 4G era, thanks in large part to its failed bet on WiMAX as the standard. It never caught up in LTE, but it’s well-positioned for 5G thanks to its massive block of mid-band spectrum. No other US carrier has that, which is why AT&T and Verizon are pushing millimeter-wave 5G so hard. 

There are still several outstanding state lawsuits blocking the deal, but several have already been dropped alongside the DOJ approval. It’s unlikely the remaining suits will last long. We expect news about how the merger will proceed in the coming months, but it will take years to fully integrate the T-Mobile and Sprint networks.

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Apple Acquires Intel’s 5G Modem Business for $1 Billion


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As expected, Apple has acquired Intel’s modem business. The purchase is a definite win for Apple and for Intel as well, we suppose, inasmuch as the company has gotten rid of a business unit that never seemed to deliver the kind of improvements or capabilities it wanted. The deal, which covers the “majority” of Intel’s smartphone business, does not entirely block Chipzilla from developing its own products. Intel is allowed to develop modems for PCs,SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce IoT devices, autonomous vehicles, and other products — basically, everything that isn’t a smartphone. There’s probably some leeway around tablets or convertibles related to size, OS, or the like as well.

Approximately 2,200 Intel employees will now move to Apple, along with IP, equipment, and leases. The deal is expected to close in Q4 2019.

“This agreement enables us to focus on developing technology for the 5G network while retaining critical intellectual property and modem technology that our team has created,” said Intel CEO Bob Swan. “We have long respected Apple and we’re confident they provide the right environment for this talented team and these important assets moving forward. We’re looking forward to putting our full effort into 5G where it most closely aligns with the needs of our global customer base, including network operators, telecommunications equipment manufacturers and cloud service providers.”

Translation: “Get us the hell out of this market.”

5g-spectrum

5G is being deployed in two distinct sets of spectrum, with very different characteristics.

Selling off its old Infineon modem business is a relief for Intel. The company bought the business unit almost a decade ago, but it’s reportedly been losing a billion dollars a year, and its efforts in both LTE and 5G did not take off. It isn’t clear how Qualcomm’s anti-trust behavior impacted Intel’s modem business. On the one hand, Qualcomm has been found guilty of exploiting some of the same monopolistic tactics Intel was itself accused of exploiting against AMD back in the early 2000s. This may be part of why Intel’s smartphones struggled so hard to find a market. Even if this is true, however, Intel’s rumored failure to meet Apple’s required milestones for 5G modem development is an unrelated issue. Yet Apple just bought the same business unit, IP, and workers that had failed to hit their targets under Intel’s guidance — implying they think the problem can be solved.

One potential reason for this: There’s a longer roadmap to work with now. Apple wanted a 5G modem for the 2020 iPhone, which it can now secure via a new deal with Qualcomm. This gives them several years to bring up a new modem design of their own. That’s solid reasoning, but it’s also reasoning we’ve used before, with Intel directly. Once it became clear that LTE was a mature market, Intel was one of the first companies to start talking about its 5G plans. The reset from LTE to 5G was supposed to give them a leg up on overall product development that doesn’t seem to have happened.

Apple and Qualcomm have a six-year licensing agreement. We’d expect the company to have a modem of its own design ready before that deal expires.

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