UK consumers could be owed more than £480 million for allegedly being overcharged on smartphone purchases, Which? has said.


The consumer rights group believes as many as 29 million people who have bought a 4G smartphone since October 2015 could be entitled to a payout from chipmaker Qualcomm.

Which? claims that the American firm has breached UK competition law by abusing its dominance in the patent-licensing and chipset markets.

Qualcomm’s technology can be found in a number of leading brands, including Apple and Samsung.

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According to Which?, the firm is able to inflate the fees it charges manufacturers, which the consumer is forced to bear in the form of increased handset prices.

Damages are being sought for all affected Apple and Samsung smartphones purchased since 1 October, 2015, which could result in an average payout of around £17 for each person.

“We believe Qualcomm’s practices are anti-competitive and have so far taken around £480 million from UK consumers’ pockets – this needs to stop,” said Anabel Hoult, chief executive of Which?.

“We are sending a clear warning that if companies like Qualcomm indulge in manipulative practices which harm consumers, Which? is prepared to take action.

“If Qualcomm has abused its market power it must be held to account.

“Without Which? bringing this claim on behalf of millions of affected UK consumers, it would simply not be realistic for people to seek damages from the company on an individual basis – that’s why it’s so important that consumers can come together and claim the redress they are entitled to.”

Which?’s claim will state that Qualcomm refuses to license its patents to other competing chipset manufacturers and refuses to supply chipsets to smartphone manufacturers unless companies obtain a separate licence and pay substantial royalties.

The consumer group will need permission from the Competition Appeal Tribunal to act as class representative for any chance of compensation, unless the firm agrees a settlement before.

Qualcomm has previously been investigated by competition authorities in the US, Canada, and the European Commission.

“There is no basis for this lawsuit,” said Christine Trimble, vice president of public affairs at Qualcomm.


“As the plaintiffs are well aware, their claims were effectively put to rest last summer by a unanimous panel of judges at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the United States.”

Reader Q&A: Is there any point turning my phone to 'flight mode' on a plane?

Asked by: Jo Adamson, Bath

Until recently, concern that electronic emissions from laptops, e-readers and phones could interfere with aircraft systems led to passengers being asked to put such devices into low-emission ‘flight mode’ during take-off and landing.

In recent years, these restrictions have been eased, but they still apply to phones. That’s because the aerospace industry believes that radio emissions from phones still have the potential to cause interference – and are suspected to have sometimes affected headphones used by pilots.

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Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.