Qualcomm’s business model hangs in the balance as FTC case concludes

The US Federal Trade Commission accused Qualcomm of abusing a monopoly two years ago. Now a judge is set to decide if it was right to do so.

The original accusations coincided almost exactly with the commencement of hostilities between Qualcomm and Apple, with the latter saying the former was getting away with overcharging for its mobile chips thanks to having a monopoly in that market. The FTC case pretty much echoed that claim, with accusations of FRAND patent abuse thrown in for good measure.

It apparently takes a couple of years for this sort of thing to play out and the respective parties delivered their closing arguments recently. The FTC doesn’t seem to have made a formal announcement on the matter but credit to Cnet which has actually done some old fashioned reporting and sent someone into the court room.

Here’s the Cnet report from 15 Jan, which covers the FTC side of the case. The core of it seems to be that forcing companies who want to buy its chips to also take out patent licenses is wrong. It also claims that this process prevents other chip makers coming into the market and thus harms competition. Unsurprisingly a couple of Apple execs turned up to support the FTC case.

Among the FTC’s closing arguments is the warning that, if Qualcomm isn’t stopped, it will abuse the 5G market as it has previous once. But Apple’s own shift from Qualcomm to Intel chips would appear to contradict that assumption, as does Huawei’s recent launch of a 5G modem. These are also unhelpful in its bid to claim Qualcomm has a monopoly.

“The FTC hasn’t come close to meeting its burden of proof in this case,” said Qualcomm General Counsel Don Rosenberg in a press announcement. “All real-world evidence presented at trial showed how Qualcomm’s years of R&D and innovation fostered competition, and growth for the entire mobile economy to the benefit of consumers around the world.

“Our licensing rates – which were set long before we had a chip business, and revalidated time and again – fairly and accurately reflect the value of our patent portfolio. Qualcomm’s technology has been the foundation of a thriving, competitive industry.”

Now Judge Lucy Koh, who’s a veteran of this sort of thing, needs to weigh up all the evidence and arguments, and make a call one way or the other. The stakes are pretty high for Qualcomm as a decision against it would effectively be a decision against a big part of its business model. Expect Qualcomm’s share price react strongly either way when the decision is announced, which Koh warned might take a while.

German Gov told to sell DT stake

The Chief of the Monopolies Commission in Germany has suggested the German government should sell its stake in Deutsche Telekom over conflict of interest fears.

Achim Wamback, the President of the Monopolies Commission, has made the call on the grounds the German government is currently sitting in a suspect position on both sides of the fence, according to local newspaper Wirtschafts Woche. Although there is no suggestion this position is currently being abused, owning a notable share of a major telco, while simultaneously exercising regulatory power over the industry could lead to market abuse. With the 5G auction set to take place in the immediate future, Wamback’s call will make for awkward reading in the Bundestag.

As it stands, the German government owns roughly 31% of DT, the profits of which will contribute to national coffers, meaning there is less of an emphasis on taxing the general public to raise funds. This will only be a minor impact on the taxation strategies, but every little helps for a governing party which has struggled to maintain power and influence in recent years.

If you try to take a purely impartial approach to the situation, you can see Wamback’s point; this is a conflict of interest. Nationalised businesses are always a talking point for the more left-leaning members of society, but they are deeply unpopular when things are going well in the economy.

This is not the first time the German government’s position in DT has been called into question however. During 2017, when Chancellor Angela Merkel’s grip on government was starting to loosen following federal elections, two potential coalition partners pushed for the sale as well. The Freedom Party and the Greens were unsuccessful with their ambition then, though the idea was never quashed.

Part or fully state-owned telcos are certainly not an unusual fixture on the global telco scene, though you have to question whether it aligns with the pro-competition sensitivities of the European Union.