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Likely No Intel Corp. Inside the iPhone SE; Analysts Talk Up iPhone 7 Opportunity

By Ashraf Eassa – Mar 30, 2016 at 2:30PM

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As the prospects for Intel inside the iPhone SE dim ahead of tear-downs, analysts talk up the chip giant's opportunity in iPhone 7.

The iPhone SE likely has only Qualcomm-designed modems inside. Image credit: Apple. 

A while back, tech website Fudzilla claimed that the Apple (AAPL -1.96%) iPhone SE (then referred to by the publication as the "iPhone C") would feature a cellular modem sourced from none-other than Intel (INTC -1.11%).

This report is probably false for a few reasons. Firstly, the models listed on Apple's U.S. site feature CDMA (a cellular standard unsupported by any of Intel's current modems). Additionally we look at the models for sale in China, there is a model that does not include CDMA support, but it supports too many LTE bands for it to be the Intel XMM 7160 modem.

Apple could be using Intel's newer XMM 7260 in models that do not support CDMA, but given that the iPhone SE almost seems to exist to "absorb" excess components from iPhone 6/6s, this seems quite implausible. 

Fudzilla itself came out with a follow-up report, citing "industry insiders," claiming that the iPhone SE uses Qualcomm (QCOM -1.36%) silicon exclusively.

Still chatter around iPhone 7
Although Intel is unlikely to be supplying parts into the iPhone SE, the rumors around Intel potentially having won a spot in the next generation iPhone flagship -- the iPhone 7-series -- persist. In fact, an analyst with Barclay's recently downgraded shares of Qualcomm citing, among other concerns, the potential for Intel to take share from Qualcomm in the upcoming iPhone flagship.

I have already put my views out there on the matter; though not impossible, I find the use of any of the current Intel modem products in a flagship iPhone quite unlikely, however. The feature-set of the only viable Intel modem -- the XMM 7360 -- simply isn't there, with both upload and download speeds well below what Qualcomm's Snapdragon X12 modem (the likely candidate for the iPhone 7-series) feature.

And, for those who say that peak wireless performance specifications don't matter, I would point you to comments made by Apple RF chipmaker Broadcom (AVGO -0.70%) which disclosed that it signed a three-year supply agreement with Apple.

Broadcom management has routinely talked about the visibility it has into the increased RF content into next generation iPhones, so Apple is clearly planning to be aggressive in adopting the latest wireless technologies going forward.

Apple could pull off using modems from both vendors by producing different, region-specific models with different wireless performance specs on paper, but I remain skeptical given that Apple has trended toward consolidating the number of wireless configurations it puts out.

When will we know?
Major suppliers into the iPhone are likely "pre-building" components for the iPhone 7-series devices; the specifications are almost certainly set in stone at this point. Significant shipments to Apple should begin in the June timeframe.

I don't think Qualcomm will be able to hide the loss of a significant portion of the iPhone 7 modems if that is to come to pass.

This likely means that either on this coming quarterly earnings call (scheduled for April 20) or the following one, if Qualcomm has lost the Intel business (and I must emphasize that this statement is an if), it may very well issue a statement along the lines of, "We believe our share at a tier-1 thin modem customer will be lower than it has been in prior product cycles."

In that case, I would expect Qualcomm shares to dip a bit and Intel, though such a win wouldn't have a huge impact on its financials, shares to move upward on the "good news."

Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel and Qualcomm. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Qualcomm. The Motley Fool recommends Intel. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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