TSMC to manufacture Apple’s 5G modem using advanced 3nm process node technology

Apple secures TSMC’s entire 3nm production capacity for 2023

Apple has reserved all of TSMC’s 3nm chip production slots for 2023. This is significant because lower process nodes translate to smaller transistors, enabling more transistors to be integrated into each chip. This increases the chip’s power and energy efficiency. For example, the A13 Bionic chip contained 8.5 billion transistors, while the A14 Bionic in 2020’s iPhone 12 series had 11.8 billion transistors. In 2021, the iPhone 13 series was equipped with 15 billion transistors in the A15 Bionic, which was made on a second-generation 5nm process node. And last year’s iPhone 14 Pro models came with the A16 Bionic, which was made using a 4nm process node and had close to 16 billion transistors.

Apple’s 5G modem expected to use TSMC’s 3nm process node

Given that Apple has booked all of TSMC’s 3nm production capacity for 2023, it is likely that the company’s in-house 5G modem will use this node. According to the Commercial Times, the modem’s risk production will begin in the second half of this year, followed by volume production in the first half of 2023. This timeline suggests that the iPhone 15 series will still be equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X70 5G modem chip, while Apple’s in-house 5G modem chip is expected to debut with the iPhone 16 series in 2024. Apple was initially planning to use its in-house modem chips with the iPhone 15 series, but patent disputes and other issues caused a delay.

Apple’s $1 billion purchase of Intel’s smartphone modem business

In 2019, Apple purchased most of Intel’s smartphone modem business for $1 billion and began developing an in-house 5G modem. While Apple executives praised the quality of Qualcomm’s modem chips, the company was dissatisfied with Qualcomm’s sales practices. Qualcomm requires customers to pay for a license and charges separately for its chips, which was a point of contention for Apple.