FTC Targeting Qualcomm for Forcing Apple to Use its Modems [Updated]

The United States Federal Trade Commission today filed a complaint against Qualcomm, accusing the company of violating the FTC Act by using anticompetitive tactics to remain the dominant supplier of baseband processors (aka LTE chips) for smartphones.

According to the FTC, Qualcomm uses its position and its portfolio of patents to impose "onerous and anticompetitive supply and licensing terms on cell phone manufacturers," negatively impacting its competitors.

iphone-7-plus-colors
The complaint specifically addresses a deal with Apple in which Qualcomm required Apple to exclusively use its modems from 2011 to 2016 in exchange for lower patent royalties.

Qualcomm precluded Apple from sourcing baseband processors from Qualcomm's competitors from 2011 to 2016. Qualcomm recognized that any competitor that won Apple's business would become stronger, and used exclusivity to prevent Apple from working with and improving the effectiveness of Qualcomm's competitors.

Up until 2016, Apple only used Qualcomm modems in its line of iPhones, deviating from the norm with the iPhone 7. Both Intel and Qualcomm modems were adopted for the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus, leading to some compatibility and performance discrepancies.

Qualcomm is also accused of refusing to license its standard-essential patents to competing suppliers and implementing a "no license, no chips" tax policy where it supplies its baseband processors only when manufacturers agree to Qualcomm's preferred licensing terms, causing smartphone makers to pay higher royalties to Qualcomm when a competitor's modem chips are used.

The FTC has asked the court to order Qualcomm to put a stop to its anticompetitive conduct and take action to "restore competitive conditions."

Update: According to Qualcomm, the FTC's complaint is based on "flawed legal theory, a lack of economic support and significant misconceptions about the mobile technology industry." Qualcomm says it has never withheld or threatened to withhold chip supply to obtain unfair licensing terms.

"This is an extremely disappointing decision to rush to file a complaint on the eve of Chairwoman Ramirez's departure and the transition to a new Administration, which reflects a sharp break from FTC practice," said Don Rosenberg, executive vice president and general counsel, Qualcomm Incorporated.

"In our recent discussions with the FTC, it became apparent that it still lacked basic information about the industry and was instead relying on inaccurate information and presumptions. In fact, Qualcomm was still receiving requests for information from the agency that would be necessary to an informed view of the facts when it became apparent that the FTC was driving to file a complaint before the transition to the new Administration. We have grave concerns about the two Commissioners' decision to bring this case despite a lack of evidence supporting the allegations and theories in the complaint. We look forward to defending our business in federal court, where we are confident we will prevail on the merits."

Top Rated Comments

diegov12 Avatar
50 months ago

They should stick their nose somewhere else, the Intel modems were shown to be slower than the Qualcomm ones...

By using these practices, they were able to spend more on r and

Awwww.... as if Apple probably doesn't bully companies into only using their products.

I didn't know apple licensed its tech.
When did this happen.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jdillings Avatar
50 months ago

How about targeting 'Intel' as well for their 'x86' architecture? It's killing the Macs.

No, Tim Cook is.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
DrumApple Avatar
50 months ago
They should stick their nose somewhere else, the Intel modems were shown to be slower than the Qualcomm ones...
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
tubeexperience Avatar
50 months ago

They should stick their nose somewhere else, the Intel modems were shown to be slower than the Qualcomm ones...

What does that have to do with Qualcomm anti-competitive practices?
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
WarHeadz Avatar
50 months ago
Hard to believe anyone "forces" Apple to do anything.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
oneMadRssn Avatar
50 months ago

They should stick their nose somewhere else, the Intel modems were shown to be slower than the Qualcomm ones...

This has nothing to do with what's better. The issue is Qualcomm basically unfairly prevented competition by improperly licensing standard essential patents.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

2020 apple shopping event

Apple Offering Up to $150 Gift Card With Select Products on Black Friday Through Cyber Monday

Monday November 23, 2020 2:53 am PST by
Apple has announced its annual four-day shopping event, offering customers up to a $150 Apple Store gift card with the purchase of select products between Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States. The gift card values in the United States are as follows: $150 for 16-inch MacBook Pro $150 for 21.5-inch iMac $50 for 13-inch MacBook Pro $50 for MacBook Air $50 for iPhone SE,...
0 Deals Hero

Black Friday 2020: Best Apple Deals to Plan For

Saturday November 21, 2020 10:00 am PST by
In the lead-up to Black Friday next week, we've been putting a spotlight on the best deals coming from various retailers like Best Buy and Walmart. In an effort to further prepare our readers for the best Black Friday deals, we're breaking down what we think should be on your radar for Black Friday in 2020. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a...
app store christmas icon

Apple Shutting Down App Store Connect From December 23 to December 27

Monday November 23, 2020 10:14 am PST by
Apple shuts down App Store Connect for a week around the holidays each year in an effort to give App Store staff time off from work. This year, App Store Connect will be unavailable from December 23 to December 27. With App Store Connect unavailable, Apple will not accept new apps or app updates, so all pricing changes and new app submissions need to be locked in before those dates for...
Target November Deals 1

Black Friday Spotlight: Target Begins Week-Long Sale With Deals on iPhone 12, Powerbeats Pro, and More

Monday November 23, 2020 8:07 am PST by
We've been tracking early Black Friday deals in our dedicated Black Friday Roundup, and in an effort to prepare our readers for the big shopping event we're highlighting sales store-by-store in the lead-up to November 27. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Target. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running....
ipad pro 2020 display

Black Friday Week Kicks Off With Up to $150 Savings on 2020 iPad Pro

Sunday November 22, 2020 2:37 pm PST by
As we head into Black Friday week, we're seeing some of the best deals of the season so far, with Amazon and Best Buy today discounting the latest iPad Pro models by up to $150 at the lowest prices we've ever tracked on these models. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep ...
mac mini macbook pro macbook air

Apple M1 Hands-On Comparison: MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro vs. Mac Mini

Monday November 23, 2020 3:40 pm PST by
Apple's M1 Macs are out in the wild now, but ahead of the holidays, you might still be trying to figure out which one to pick up, either for yourself or as a gift for someone else. We've got all three of the new Macs available, so we thought we'd give MacRumors readers a hands-on overview of each machine in our latest YouTube video. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. ...
macos big sur m1 macs restore issue

Apple Provides Instructions to Fix macOS Reinstallation Errors on M1 Macs

Sunday November 22, 2020 3:30 pm PST by
Shortly after the launch of Apple's new M1 Macs, we saw reports that attempts to restore and reinstall macOS on those machines right away could result in an installation error that would leave your Mac non-functional. Specifically, the error message would read: "An error occurred preparing the update. Failed to personalize the software update. Please try again." Over the weekend, Apple p...
max tech xcode benchmark m1 macbook

Video Demos Performance Differences Between 8GB and 16GB Apple M1 MacBook Pro

Monday November 23, 2020 2:54 pm PST by
All of the M1 Mac models use the same M1 chip, so the upgrade options are limited to SSD storage space and RAM. We haven't seen many comparisons that demonstrate the difference between a machine with 8GB RAM and the upgraded 16GB RAM option, but Max Tech today shared a video highlighting the performance between an 8GB MacBook Pro and a 16GB MacBook Pro. The video includes a series of...
iPhone 6s main

Rumor Claims iOS 15 to Drop Support for iPhone 6s and Original iPhone SE

Sunday November 22, 2020 9:25 am PST by
Apple will drop support for the iPhone SE, iPhone 6s, and iPhone 6s Plus in next year's release of iOS 15, according to a rumor shared today by Israeli site The Verifier. If the rumor is accurate, that would mean iOS 15 will be compatible with the following Apple devices: 2021 iPhone series iPhone 12 Pro Max iPhone 12 Pro iPhone 12 mini iPhone 12 iPhone 11 iPhone 11 Pro iPhone 11 Pro ...
new mac mini logicpro screen

M1 Macs Able to Run Up to Six External Displays Using DisplayLink

Tuesday November 24, 2020 6:53 am PST by
It is possible to run up to six external displays from the M1 Mac mini, and five external displays from the M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, with the aid of DisplayPort adapters, according to YouTuber Ruslan Tulupov. This far exceeds Apple's specified limits on external displays with the M1 Macs. Apple's host of new M1 Macs are not capable of supporting as many external displays as their...