America’s largest companies push for federal online privacy laws to circumvent state regulatory efforts – gpgmail


As California moves ahead with what would be the most restrictive online privacy laws in the nation, the chief executives of some of the nation’s largest companies are taking their case to the nation’s capitol to plead for federal regulation.

Chief executives at Amazon, AT&T, Dell, Ford, IBM, Qualcomm, Walmart, and other leading financial services, manufacturing, and technology companies have issued an open letter to Congressional leadership pleading with them to take action on online privacy, through the pro-industry organization, The Business Roundtable.

“Now is the time for Congress to act and ensure that consumers are not faced with confusion about their rights and protections based on a patchwork of inconsistent state laws. Further, as the regulatory landscape becomes increasingly fragmented and more complex, U.S. innovation and global competitiveness in the digital economy are threatened,” the letter says.

The subtext to this call to action is the California privacy regulations that are set to take effect by the end of this year.

As we noted when the bill was passed last year there are a few key components of the California legislation including the following requirements:

  • Businesses must disclose what information they collect, what business purpose they do so for and any third parties they share that data with.

  • Businesses would be required to comply with official consumer requests to delete that data.

  • Consumers can opt out of their data being sold, and businesses can’t retaliate by changing the price or level of service.

  • Businesses can, however, offer “financial incentives” for being allowed to collect data.

  • California authorities are empowered to fine companies for violations.

There’s a reason why companies would push for federal regulation to supersede any initiatives from the states. It is more of a challenge for companies to adhere to a patchwork of different regulatory regimes at the state level. But it’s also true that companies, following the lead of automakers in California, could just adhere to the most stringent requirements which would clarify any confusion.

Indeed many of these companies are already complying with strict privacy regulations thanks to the passage of the GDPR in Europe.


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Fairphone 3 is a normal smartphone with ethical shine – gpgmail


How long have you been using your current smartphone? The answer for an increasing number of consumers is years, plural. After all, why upgrade every year when next year’s model is almost exactly the same as the device you’re holding in your hand?

Dutch social enterprise Fairphone sees this as an opportunity to sell sustainability. A chance to turn a conversation about ‘stalled smartphone innovation’ on its head by encouraging consumers to think more critically about the costs involved in pumping out the next shiny thing. And sell them on the savings — individual and collective — of holding their staple gadget steady.

Its latest smartphone, the Fairphone 3 — just released this week in Europe — represents the startup’s best chance yet of shrinking the convenience gap between the next hotly anticipated touchscreen gizmo and a fairer proposition that requires an altogether cooler head to appreciate.

On the surface Fairphone 3 looks like a fairly standard, if slightly thick (1cm), Android smartphone. But that’s essentially the point. This 4G phone could be your smartphone, is the intended message.

Specs wise, you’re getting mostly middling, rather than stand out stuff. There’s a 5.7in full HD display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 chipset, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage (expandable via microSD), a 12MP rear lens and 8MP front-facing camera. There’s also NFC on board, a fingerprint reader, dual nano-SIM slots and a 3,000mAh battery that can be removed for easy replacement when it wears out.

There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack: The handy port that’s being erased at the premium smartphone tier,  killing off a bunch of wired accessories with it. So ‘slow replacement’ smartphone hardware demonstrably encourages less waste across the gadget ecosystem too.

But the real difference lies under the surface. Fairer here means supply chain innovation to source conflict-free minerals that go into making the devices; social incentive programs that top up the minimum wages of assembly workers who put the phones together; and repairable, modular handset design that’s intended to reduce environmental impact by supporting a longer lifespan. Repair, don’t replace is the mantra.

All the extra effort that goes into making a smartphone less ethically challenging to own is of course invisible to the naked eye. So the Fairphone 3 buyer largely has to take the company’s word on trust.

The only visual evidence is repairability. Flip the phone over and a semi-opaque plastic backing gives a glimpse of modular guts. A tiny screwdriver included in the box allows you take the phone to pieces so you can swap out individual modules (such as the display) in case they break or fail. Fairphone sells replacements via a spare parts section of its website.

Fp3sc

Despite this radically modular and novel design vs today’s hermetically sealed premium mobiles the Fairphone 3 feels extremely solid to hold.

It’s not designed to pop apart easily. Indeed, there’s a full thirteen screws holding the display module in place. Deconstruction takes work (and care not to lose any of the teeny screws). So this is modularity purely as occasional utility, not flashy party trick — as with Google’s doomed Ara Project.

For some that might be disappointing. Exactly because this modular phone feels so, well, boringly normal.

Visually the most stand out feature at a glance is the Fairphone logo picked out in metallic white lettering on the back. Those taking a second look will also spot a moralizing memo printed on the battery so it’s legible through the matte plastic — which reads: “Change is in your hands”. It may be a bit cringeworthy but if you’ve paid for an ethical premium you might as well flaunt it.

It’s fair to say design fans won’t be going wild over the Fairphone 3. But it feels almost intentionally dull. As if — in addition to shrinking manufacturing costs — the point is to impress on buyers that ethical internals are more than enough of a hipster fashion statement.

It’s also true that most smartphones are now much the same, hardware, features and performance wise. So — at this higher mid-tier price-point (€450/~$500) — why not flip the consumer smartphone sales pitch on its head to make it about shrinking rather than maximizing impact, via a dull but worthy standard?

That then pushes people to ask how sustainable is an expensive but valueless — and so, philosophically speaking, pointless — premium? That’s the question Fairphone 3 seems designed to pose.

Or, to put it another way, if normal can be ethical then shouldn’t ethical electronics be the norm?

Normal is what you get elsewhere with Fairphone 3. Purely judged as a smartphone its performance isn’t anything to write home about. It checks all the usual boxes of messaging, photos, apps and Internet browsing. You can say it gets the job done.

Sure, it’s not buttery smooth at every screen and app transition. And it can feel a little slow on the uptake at times. Notably the camera, while fairly responsive, isn’t lightning quick. Photo quality is not terrible — but not amazing either.

Testing the camera I found images prone to high acutance and over saturated colors. The software also struggles to handle mixed light and shade — meaning you may get a darker and less balanced shot that you hoped for. Low light performance isn’t great either.

That said, in good light the Fairphone 3 can take a perfectly acceptable selfie. Which is what most people will expect to be able to use the phone for.

Fairphone has said it’s done a lot of work to improve the camera vs the predecessor model. And it has succeeded in bringing photo performance up to workable standard — which is a great achievement at what’s also a slightly reduced handset price-point. Though, naturally, there’s still a big gap in photo quality vs the premium end of the smartphone market.

On the OS front, the phone runs a vanilla implementation of Android 9 out of the box — preloaded with the usual bundle of Google services and no added clutter so Android fans should feel right at home. (For those who want a Google-free alternative Fairphone says a future update will allow users to do a wipe and clean install of Android Open Source Project.)

Fp3f

In short, purely as a smartphone, the Fairphone 3 offers very little to shout about — so no screaming lack either. Again, if the point is to shrink the size of the compromise Fairphone is asking consumers to make in order to buy an ethically superior brand of electronics they are slowly succeeding in closing the gap.

It’s a project that’s clearly benefiting from the maturity of the smartphone market. While, on the cellular front, the transformative claims being made for 5G are clearly many years out — so there’s no issue with asking buyers to stick with a 4G phone for years to come.

Given where the market has now marched to, a ‘fairer’ smartphone that offers benchmark basics at a perfectly acceptable median but with the promise of reduced costs over the longer term — individual, societal and environmental — does seem like a proposition that could expand from what has so far been an exceptional niche into something rather larger and more mainstream.

Zooming out for a second, the Fairphone certainly makes an interesting contrast with some of the expensive chimeras struggling to be unfolded at the top end of the smartphone market right now.

Foldables like the Samsung Galaxy Fold — which clocks in at around 4x the price of a Fairphone and offers ~2x the screen real estate (when unfolded), plus a power bump. Whether the Fold’s lux package translates into mobile utility squared is a whole other question, though.

And where foldables will need to demonstrate a compelling use-case that goes above and beyond the Swiss Army utility of a normal smartphone to justify such a whopping price bump, Fairphone need only prick the consumer conscience — as it asks you pay a bit more and settle for a little less.

Neither of these sales pitches is challenge free, of course. And, for now, both foldables and fairer electronics remain curious niches.

But with the Fairphone 3 demonstrating that ethical can feel so normal it doesn’t seem beyond the pale to imagine demand for electronics that are average in performance yet pack an ethical punch scaling up to challenge the mainstream parade of copycat gadgets.


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Microsoft: Latest Windows 10 1903 Update Can Cause CPU Spikes, Break Desktop Search


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Earlier this week, reports surfaced that some Windows 10 users are having problems with Windows 10 1903. The latest cumulative update released for the OS, KB4512941, can cause CPU usage to surge to 30 percent or even as high as 100 percent. Separately from that, some users are also reporting that Windows Desktop Search is completely broken.

According to Microsoft, the broken search issue only affects systems which have disabled the “Search the web” functionality embedded in desktop search. I admit, this kind of acknowledgment always makes me a bit grumpy, mostly because I’ve never understood why anyone would want web-search functionality integrated into desktop search in the first place. If I’m searching my desktop, I’m definitionally not searching the World Wide Web. Cluttering my results with data from locations that aren’t going to contain what I’m looking for isn’t a value-add, it’s an active detriment to the entire point of using a desktop search as opposed to a web search.

MS-Search-Problem

Separately from these issues, Windows 10 1903 is still grappling with a laundry list of problems. The company still doesn’t recommend installing 1903 on Surface Book 2 models with a discrete GPU because the update can break discrete GPU functionality. Some Qualcomm and Realtek device driver versions aren’t compatible with the update. Some users with an Intel Audio Driver have reported faster-than-expected battery drain, and the company hasn’t fixed an issue causing problems with gamma ramps, color profiles, and night light settings. This one produced some spectacular (and puzzling) visual results while we were testing the 5700 and 5700 XT for AMD’s Navi launch back in July.

In most of these cases, Microsoft has “mitigated” the problem by blocking affected products from updating to Windows 10 1903 automatically. The problem with that approach, however, is that it doesn’t address the issues of people who updated to 1903 already and didn’t discover it was the cause of their issues until the rollback window had already passed. It’s easy to remove a single Windows Update, like the cumulative KB4512941 that’s causing the new issues with CPU usage, but rolling back the entire 1903 installation is something you have to do within 30 days.

As for the broken desktop search functionality, that’s an issue I’ve actually run into before with earlier Windows 10 updates. When I updated my desktop to Windows 10 1809, it broke desktop search. I rolled the update back as a result, even though I wasn’t impacted by the data-deletion bug that affected some users.

Affected users should try uninstalling KB4512941. Users who still can’t install 1903 should wait to see if Microsoft will be able to resolve any of these issues before 1909 comes out. Microsoft has made significant changes to how it tests future Windows builds in the Windows Insider program. The result of these changes should be a longer overall test cycle and hopefully updates that will break less code moving forward, but 1903 was released before these changes had gone into effect. We may not see the impact of these changes until Windows releases its 2020 updates.

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Chinese Foundry SMIC Begins 14nm Production


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One of the longstanding trends in semiconductor manufacturing has been a steady decrease in major foundry players. Twenty years ago, when 180nm manufacturing was cutting-edge technology, there were no fewer than 28 firms deploying the node. Today, there are three companies building 7nm technology — Samsung, TSMC, and Intel. A fourth, GlobalFoundries, has since quit the cutting-edge business to focus on specialty foundry technologies like its 22nm and 12nm FDX technology.

What sometimes gets lost in this discussion, however, is the existence of a secondary group of foundry companies that do deploy new nodes — just not at the cutting-edge of technological research. China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) has announced that it will begin recognizing 14nm revenue from volume production by the end of 2019, a little more than five years after Intel began shipping on this node. TSMC, Samsung, and GlobalFoundries all have extensive 14nm capability in production, as does UMC, which introduced the node in 2017.

Secondary sources for a node, like UMC and SMIC, often aren’t captured in comparative manufacturing charts like the one below because the companies in question offer these nodes after they’ve been deployed as cutting-edge products by major foundries. In many cases, they’re tapped by smaller customers with products that don’t make news headlines.

FoundryManufacturing

SMIC, however, is something of a special case. SMIC is mainland China’s largest semiconductor manufacturer and builds chips ranging from 350nm to 14nm. The company has two factories with the ability to process 300mm wafers, but while moving to 14nm is a major part of China’s long-term semiconductor initiative, SMIC isn’t expected to have much 14nm capacity any time soon. The company’s high utilization rate (~94 percent) precludes it having much additional capacity to dedicate to 14nm production. SMIC is vital to China’s long-term manufacturing goals; the country’s “Made in China 2025” plan calls for 70 percent of its domestic semiconductor demand to come from local companies by 2025. Boosting production at SMIC and bringing new product lines online is vital to that goal. That distinguishes the company from a foundry like UMC, which has generally chosen not to compete with TSMC for leading-edge process nodes. SMIC wants that business — it just can’t compete for it yet.

Dr. Zhao Haijun and Dr. Liang Mong Song, SMIC’s Co-Chief Executive Officers released a statement on the company’s 14nm ramp, saying:

FinFET research and development continues to accelerate. Our 14nm is in risk production and is expected to contribute meaningful revenue by year-end. In addition, our second-generation FinFET N+1 has already begun customer engagement. We maintain long-term and steady cooperation with customers and clutch onto the opportunities emerging from 5G, IoT, automotive and other industry trends.

Currently, only 16 percent of the semiconductors used in China are built there, but the country is adding semiconductor production capacity faster than anywhere else on Earth. The company is investing in a $10B fab that will be used for dedicated 14nm production. SMIC is already installing equipment in the completed building, so production should ramp up in that facility in 2020. Once online, the company will have significantly more 14nm capacity at its disposal (major known customers of SMIC include HiSilicon and Qualcomm). Texas Instruments has built with the company in the past (it isn’t clear if it still does), as has Broadcom. TSMC and SMIC have gone through several rounds of litigation over IP misappropriation; both cases were settled out of court with substantial payments to TSMC.

Despite this spending, analysts do not expect SMIC to immediately catch up with major foundry players from other countries; analysts told CNBC it would take a decade for the firm to close the gap with other major players. Exact dimensions on SMIC’s 14nm node are unknown. Foundry nodes are defined by the individual company not by any overarching standard organization or in reference to any specific metric. Those looking for additional information on that topic will find it here.

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Why chipmaker Broadcom is spending big bucks for aging enterprise software companies – gpgmail


Last year Broadcom, a chipmaker, raised eyebrows when it acquired CA Technologies, an enterprise software company with a broad portfolio of products, including a sizable mainframe software tools business. It paid close to $19 billion for the privilege.

Then last week, the company opened up its wallet again and forked over $10.7 billion for Symantec’s enterprise security business. That’s almost $30 billion for two aging enterprise software companies. There has to be some sound strategy behind these purchases, right? Maybe.

Here’s the thing about older software companies. They may not out-innovate the competition anymore, but what they have going for them is a backlog of licensing revenue that appears to have value.


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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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Week in Review: Regulation boogaloo – gpgmail


Hello, weekenders. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on gpgmail this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about how services like Instagram had moved beyond letting their algorithms take over the curation process as they tested minimizing key user metrics such as “like” counts on the platform.


John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The big story

The big news stories this week intimately involved the government poking its head into the tech industry. What was clear between the two biggest stories, the DoJ approving the Sprint/T -Mobile merger and the FTC giving Facebook a $5 billion slap on the wrist, is that big tech has little to worry about its inertia being contained.

It seems the argument from Spring and T-Mobile that it was better to have three big telecom companies in the U.S. rather than two contenders and two pretenders, seems to have stuck. Similarly, Facebook seems to have done a worthy job of indicating that it will handle the complicated privacy stuff but that they’ll let the government orgs see what they’re up to.

Fundamentally, none of these orgs seem to want to harm the growth of these American tech companies and I have a tough time believing that perspective is going to magically get more toothy in some of these early antitrust investigations. The government might be making a more concerted effort to understand how these businesses are structured, but even focusing solely on something like the cloud businesses of Microsoft, Google and Amazon, I have little doubt that the government is going to spend an awfully long time in the observation phase.

The danger is erraticism and for that the worst government fear for tech isn’t a three-letter agency, it’s the Twitter ramblings of POTUS.

Onto the rest of the week’s news.

Intel and Apple logos

(Photo: ALASTAIR PIKE,THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • Apple dropping $1 billion on Intel’s modem business
    Apple is snapping up a missing link in its in-house component production with the $1B purchase of most of Intel’s modem business. This follows a dramatic saga between Intel, Qualcomm and Apple over the past year, but Apple will be making its own smartphone modems the question is when they actually end up in new iPhones. Read more here.
  • Microsoft dropping $1 billion on OpenAI
    Microsoft announced this week that it is dumping $1 billion into Sam Altman’s OpenAI research group. The partnership is pretty major, but it’s just one of the interesting avenues Microsoft is using to ensure its Azure services gain notable customers. Read more here.
  • Galaxy Fold is coming back!
    After a very embarrassing soft launch, Samsung which managed to make it a several devices beyond the Note 7 before another garbage fire is trying its hand at the Galaxy Fold again and will be releasing it sometime in September. It seems like the carriers are a little dubious of the prospect and T-Mobile has already opted out of carrying it. Read more here.

darkened facebook logo

GAFA Gaffes [Facebook Edition!!]

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Facebook gets five:
    [Facebook settles with FTC: $5 billion and new privacy guarantees]
  2. FTC isn’t quite done with Facebook:
    [Facebook says it’s under antitrust investigation by the FTC]
  3. Facebook dismissed CA warnings:
    [Facebook ignored staff warnings about sketchy Cambridge Analytica in September 2015]
  4. Facebook left kids vulnerable:
    [Facebook fails to keep Messenger Kids safety promise]

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. This week, my colleague Danny spoke with some top VCs about why fintech startups have been raising massive amounts of cash and he seemed to walk away with some interesting impressions.

“…The biggest challenge that has faced fintech companies for years — really, the industry’s consistent Achilles’ heel — is the cost of acquiring a customer. Financial customer relationships are incredibly valuable, and the cost of acquiring a user for any product is among the most expensive in every major channel.

And those costs are going up…”

Here are some of our other top reads for premium subscribers.

We’re excited to announce The Station, a new gpgmail newsletter all about mobility. Each week, in addition to curating the biggest transportation news, Kirsten Korosec will provide analysis, original reporting and insider tips. Sign up here to get The Station in your inbox beginning in August.


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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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