apple’s new 5g modem chip to use tsmc’s 4nm process

Following Apple’s A-series and M-series processors, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) is one again put in charge of manufacturing Apple’s in-house chips: this time, it is Apple’s new 5G baseband chips.

As revealed by Nikkei Asia, Apple’s self-developed modem chip will first use TSMC’s 5nm process for test production, before adopting TSMC’s 4nm process for volume production in 2023. In October, TSMC just introduced another enhancement of its 5nm platform. 

Known as N4P, it will deliver an 11% performance boost over the original N5 technology and a 6% boost over N4. Compared to N5, N4P will also deliver a 22% improvement in power efficiency as well as a 6% improvement in transistor density. In addition, N4P lowers process complexity and improves wafer cycle time by reducing the number of masks.

In early November, rumors surfaced indicating that Apple’s A16 chips, intended for iPhone 14, would also use TSMC’s 4nm process – also built on the 5nm platform. The move was reportedly driven by TSMC’s difficulties with there 3nm process 

Apple’s development of modem chips has been interpreted as a move to reduce reliance on Qualcomm, its main supplier of modem chips. According to an Apple-Qualcomm settlement dated back to 2019, Apple will continue to use Qualcomm’s modem chips on some of its products all the way up to May 2024. According to Qualcomm, nevertheless, its share of iPhone modem orders will drop to 20% in 2023. 

As reported by Nikkei Asia, Apple is working on its own power management chip and RF components for the upcoming modem. In the long run, Apple is likely to integrate its modem chip into its in-house mobile processor. TSMC, with hundred of engineers stationed in Cupertino, California, is said to be deeply involved in Apple’s chip development process. 

Source: Nikkei Asia

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