China launches monopoly probe against Qualcomm

A Chinese regulator is investigating mobile chip maker Qualcomm in connection with the Chinese Anti-Monopoly Law, Qualcomm said on Monday.

In a statement, the company said it would cooperate with the investigation by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). Qualcomm said it wasn’t aware of any charge by the NDRC that it had violated the antimonopoly law. The NDRC told Qualcomm that the substance of the probe was confidential.

The NDRC has investigated or punished both foreign and domestic companies in the past on antitrust and other issues. In January, it announced fines totalling about $56 million against LG, Samsung and four Taiwanese companies for price-fixing on LCD panels.

Qualcomm supplies chips for many smartphones and other mobile devices and also licenses much of the patented technology behind 3G and LTE technologies. In 2009, the Korean Fair Trade Commission fined the company, saying discounts and rebates it offered some South Korean customers violated the country’s competition laws. Later that year, the European Commission closed down an antitrust probe of Qualcomm after Ericsson, Nokia, Broadcom, Panasonic and other companies dropped complaints that Qualcomm had charged them too much to use its patents on 3G and emerging 4G mobile technologies.

China is among both the largest and the fastest growing mobile markets in the world, accounting for one-third of all smartphone shipments in this year’s third quarter, according to IDC. China Mobile, the country’s largest mobile operator with more than 700 million subscribers, will launch commercial 4G service on Dec. 18, according to a report on Monday by China’s official Xinhua news service. The launch will follow vast and lengthy LTE trials.

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