For those paying attention, the evidence that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) intends on developing its own baseband modems has been mounting for years. As far as Apple has come over the years with its semiconductor design capabilities, the most prominent missing feature has been integrated cellular connectivity.
It appears the tech titan has made another move toward achieving that goal.
Fortune reports that Apple has now hired Esin Terzioglu away from Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), where he was a vice president of engineering for Qualcomm's chip segment for nearly eight years. Terzioglu's specialties include wireless connectivity and low-power designs, among others.
Poaching Terzioglu from Qualcomm appears to be a solid win for Apple, and hints that the Mac maker is indeed looking to bring modem development in house -- all at a time when the two companies are embroiled in an epic legal battle that continues to escalate. Most recently, Qualcomm sued Apple's suppliers and is seeking an import injunction because they have breached their licensing agreements, as Apple is withholding royalty payments via these suppliers.
Raymond James analyst Tavis McCourt has issued a research note (via Tech Trader Daily) on the development, believing that the news is the "latest in a list of instances suggesting that Apple has plans to develop full SoCs [system-on-chip] in house for future mobile devices" and that the hire "seems to suggest that Apple is acquiring the necessary expertise to develop such technology."
A cellular-capable A-series chip seems inevitable
Apple's chip ambitions appear to have no bounds. Not only are there now four distinct chips that Apple designs for different purposes, it recently notified graphics architecture supplier Imagination Technologies that it would be ditching it in favor of its own in-house architecture. That move is potentially fatal for Imagination, as Apple comprises fully half of its revenue. More recently, Bloomberg reported last week that Apple is even developing a new chip dedicated to artificial intelligence applications.
Qualcomm still counts Apple as one of its largest customers, but that business is under siege on all fronts. Apple's lawsuit represents an existential threat to Qualcomm's licensing business, since Apple argues that the very structure of its royalty agreements is wholly inappropriate (despite Qualcomm having hundreds of similar agreements with smartphone manufacturers all around the world). If Apple were to win in court, manufacturers could revolt en masse, seeking more favorable terms.
At the same time, Apple is actively moving its baseband modem purchases away to its newfound second supplier, Intel, and is very clearly working on its own cellular capabilities. An Apple-designed A-series processor featuring integrated cellular connectivity is still probably a few years out, but once it's ready to ship, Apple won't need to buy baseband modems from either supplier. Even if it's years away, that's a pretty massive risk factor for Qualcomm, and one that one of its former employees could be about to facilitate.