Apple's $1 Billion Lawsuit Against Qualcomm Has to be Music to Intel's Ears
Given the hardball approach it has often taken towards patent negotiations, it's perhaps not too surprising that Apple (AAPL) has kicked off a major dispute with Qualcomm(QCOM) , the company with the largest mobile patent-licensing business of them all.
But the fact Qualcomm is also the world's largest mobile chip supplier, and still counts Apple as one of its largest customers, throws a unique wrinkle into this battle -- one that, depending on how the dispute unfolds, could work greatly to Intel's (INTC) advantage.
Just three days after the U.S. FTC filed an antitrust suit against Qualcomm that (among other things) alleged the company had a 5-year modem exclusivity deal with Apple that featured patent royalty rebates, Apple has announced it's suing Qualcomm for allegedly withholding close to $1 billion in rebates as retaliation for cooperating with South Korean regulators in their own Qualcomm probe.
Qualcomm's shares closed down 2.4% on Friday thanks to the news. They fell 6% on the week.
Qualcomm might counter Apple's accusation by claiming it's not withholding rebate payments because Apple talked with the KFTC, but because Apple is no longer exclusively using Qualcomm modems. Certain iPhone 7 models use Intel modems.
Back in 2015, VentureBeat reported Apple eventually wants to develop system-on-chips (SoCs) for iPhones that feature both a 4G modem and an A-series app processor. Intel could conceivably manufacture such a chip, while also providing its modem technology. The recent license Intel took out with CPU core giant ARM Holdings, which provides the underlying instruction set used by Apple's A-series processors, could help enable such an effort.
At the same time, Qualcomm's 4G modems are still considered best-in-class. Intel hasn't yet announced anything on par with Qualcomm's recently-launched Snapdragon X16, which supports 1 gbps peak download speeds and should be available in time for this year's iPhone launches. And even with the iPhone 7, Apple has been throttling Qualcomm modems to keep their speeds from exceeding those of the Intel modems found in other iPhones.
But then again, the fact Apple is using an apparently inferior Intel modem in some of its flagship phones shows it's willing to make modem-buying decisions based on factors other than raw performance. And that it was before it launched a billion-dollar lawsuit against one of its modem suppliers.
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