The two largest smartphone manufacturers in the world provide most of their modem chips to help their devices connect to wireless data networks, according to evidence presented in an antitrust test for chip provider Qualcomm.
A lawsuit between the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Qualcomm began last Friday in a federal court in California, where regulators claimed that Qualcomm engaged in anti-competitive patent licensing practices to preserve a monopoly on modem chips. The case is being closely monitored as it could shed light on the likely outcome of the global legal battle between Apple and Qualcomm.
Apple has argued that Qualcomm has engaged in illegal business practices, and Qualcomm in turn has argued that Apple has infringed its patents, winning victories in China and Germany last month.
Qualcomm has argued that its licensing practices comply with established industry standards and that it applies approximately the same licensing fees as it applied for many years before it started selling chips.
It has become an important market for Qualcomm, which controlled 59.6% of the $15.3 billion 4G modem chip market in 2017, according to IDC's Phil Solis, who studies mobile chips for the research company.
But even Bob Van Nest, Qualcomm's attorney in this case, has tried to prove that Qualcomm does not dominate the world's two largest mobile phone manufacturers.
In his opening speech, Mr. Van Nest stated that Huawei procures 54% of the modem chips it inserts internally into its devices from Qualcomm and receives only 22% of its modems, the rest from other unidentified manufacturers. According to the presentation, Samsung provides 52% of the modem chips it uses internally, 38% of which come from Qualcomm and the rest from other manufacturers.
Huawei and Samsung did not respond immediately to a request for comments. Moreover, the case of the FTC is not focused on the global market for modem chips - which includes slower chips that go to cheaper mobile phones - but rather on the market for premium high-speed chips where Qualcomm is among the only options.
Huawei and Samsung are two large diversified technology companies that produce many other products in addition to high-end smartphones. Huawei's HiSilicon unit provides chips for its high-end phones such as the Mate and P series. Samsung's chip division provides processors and other components for many of its devices and is also a leading global supplier of memory chips in addition to its own products.
The two companies are also Apple's fiercest rivals in the high-end smartphone market worth $700 or more. Apple relies entirely on Intel Corp and Qualcomm for its modem chips, although iPhones marketed in 2018 use only Intel modems.
Last month the technology information publication The Information reported that Apple was designing its own modem chip, citing Apple's job offers and an informed source on Apple's plans. Apple refused to comment on its plans.
For the second quarter of 2018 - the latest data from IDC - Apple was the third largest smartphone provider in terms of volume, with Samsung and Huawei ranked first and second respectively.