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Sunday, Oct 1, 2023

Apple’s Wireless Unit Takes Shape in Irvine

Apple Inc. made national headlines at the end of last year when news reports indicated the Cupertino firm was scouting employees to develop wireless chips in Irvine, potentially putting it up against the likes of local semiconductor heavyweights such as Broadcom and Skyworks Solutions Inc.

Those plans appear to be taking shape.

Multiple real estate sources tell the Business Journal the Silicon Valley tech giant has struck a deal to occupy an entire building at Irvine Co.’s Spectrum Terrace office development.

The spot is expected to hold the new local wireless unit for Apple that’s in the early stages of ramping up.

Sources indicate the lease is for one of the three buildings now under construction at the third and final phase of the nine-building, 1.1-million-square-foot mid-rise office complex alongside the San Diego (405) Freeway.

Irvine Co. declined to comment on the deal, which would be among the largest OC office leases over the past year.

Hiring Push

Over the past several months, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) has been on the hunt for local engineers to develop wireless chips, specifically wireless semiconductors and modem chips.

It currently lists dozens of such jobs in Irvine on its careers page, with job posts including wireless design verification engineer and radio integration engineer. “Come join Apple’s growing wireless silicon development team,” notes one posting for the group.

A specific location for the Irvine operations hasn’t been disclosed by the company, which could not be reached for comment on its local plans.

Outside of its retail stores, the $2.8 trillion-valued company hasn’t had a large operational presence in Orange County over the years.

An Irvine lease would not be the first deal struck between Apple and Irvine Co.; the two have previously paired together for large leases in San Diego and Silicon Valley.

Last year, Apple signed a 701,000-square-foot lease at the Pathline Park office complex, a 1.3-million-square-foot campus Irvine Co. is developing in Sunnyvale. That campus is about 4 miles from Apple Park, the 175-acre main campus for Apple. That spaceship-looking facility runs about 2.8 million square feet.

Murky Purpose

The Irvine wireless unit’s purpose remains murky.

A December Bloomberg report suggested that the team’s products could eventually replace components supplied by Broadcom (Nasdaq: AVGO), which started in Irvine and still has a large local presence, as well as Irvine’s Skyworks (Nasdaq: SWKS).

Industry analysts have suggested to the Business Journal that Apple could be using the division to better inspect and test what they are buying from the local chip suppliers.

“The insinuation was that Apple would bring this in-house, and that would effectively put these guys a little bit on the roadside if you will,” Piper Sandler Semiconductor Analyst Harsh Kumar told the Business Journal in December. “We disagree with that statement completely.”

Apple has historically represented a large portion of business for Skyworks, with the company accounting for 59% of the chipmaker’s business in fiscal 2021. Its chips are used in Apple’s smartphones, tablets, computers, watches and other devices. Skyworks, valued around $20 billion and OC’s fourth-most valuable public company, has been aiming to scale back that dependence.

Spectrum Terrace is about a 15-minute drive from the Skyworks headquarters at UCI Research Park, as well as Broadcom’s local operations at the FivePoint Gateway campus.

Of note, prior to its development, the multi-tenant Spectrum Terrace campus was once pitched to Broadcom for its new hub, when it was still at UCI Research Park.


Tech Tenants 

The first two phases of Spectrum Terrace—totaling six buildings—are nearly fully leased, though not all tenants have moved in, Irvine Co. told the Business Journal earlier this year.

The project has secured several full-building tenants, including Alteryx, TGS, CoStar and Amazon; the latter firm inked a lease for the entirety of 17300 Laguna Canyon Road around the start of the year.

Spectrum Terrace and the nearby Innovation Office Park are two of the largest speculative office projects underway in the state right now. 

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