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Pull up your SoCs, it's rubber-glove time: European Commission to probe Broadcom over microchip supply deals

Casts an eye over biz's agreements with 7 of its main customers

Updated The European Commission is rolling up its sleeves and once again donning its tight plastic gloves, as it begins another probe into a chip designer – this time Silicon Valley-based Broadcom.

EU antitrust officials allege the biz, which is the world's largest provider of integrated circuits for wired communication devices, has imposed illegal restrictions on seven major makers of TV set-top boxes and modems that use its system-on-chip processors, front-end chips, and Wi-Fi chipsets.

The investigation will determine whether Broadcom may be restricting competition through exclusivity practices.

Margrethe Vestager, competition commissioner, said: "We suspect that Broadcom, a major supplier of components for these devices, has put in place contractual restrictions to exclude its competitors from the market.

"This would prevent Broadcom's customers and, ultimately, final consumers from reaping the benefits of choice and innovation. We also intend to order Broadcom to halt its behaviour while our investigation proceeds, to avoid any risk of serious and irreparable harm to competition."

The Register has contacted Broadcom for comment.

Last year, the commission slapped a €997m (£872m) fine on Broadcom's rival – and one-time acquisition target – Qualcomm, for abusing its dominant market position, finding it paid billions to Apple to exclusively use its chips.

The Snapdragon chip designer blocked rivals by making significant payments to Cupertino, a key customer, on condition it would not buy cellular modem chipsets from Qualy's competitors, the commission ruled.

Broadcom had attempted to buy rival Qualcomm, but the deal was rejected by US regulators last year. Instead it decided to splash $18.9bn on software maker CA Technologies (and its 1,500-plus patents). ®

Updated to add

Broadcom has filed a statement, via America's financial watchdog the SEC, in response to the EC's probe.

"Broadcom believes it complies with European competition rules and that the Commission’s concerns are without merit," said the biz. "Broadcom will respond to the Commission regarding its objections and proposed interim measures. Broadcom will continue to cooperate with the Commission and looks forward to discussing procedural and substantive matters with the Commission over the coming weeks and months."

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