Samsung offices in South Korea

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd has halted sales of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones and told owners to stop using them while it investigates reports of fires, fuelling expectations the tech giant will scrap the flagship device.

Top US and Australian carriers on Monday suspended sales or exchanges of the Note 7s, while aviation authorities banned passengers using the phones, after smoke from a replacement device forced the evacuation of a passenger plane in the United States last week.

The world’s top smartphone maker said it had asked all global carriers to stop sales of the Note 7s and the exchange of original devices for replacements, while it worked with regulators to investigate the problem. The company is offering to exchange Note 7s for other products or refund them.

Stories Continues after ad

Samsung’s decision to pull Note 7s off the shelves for the second time in less than two months not only raises fresh doubts about the firm’s quality control but could result in huge financial and reputational costs.

Analysts say a permanent end to Note 7 sales could cost Samsung up to $17 billion and tarnish its other phone products in the minds of consumers and carriers.

Investors wiped 15.4 trillion won ($13.8 billion) off Samsung Electronics’ market value in afternoon trade on Tuesday as shares down as much as 7.3 percent to a two-week low.

The premium device launched in August was supposed to compete with Apple Inc’s latest iPhone for supremacy in the smartphone market. Well received by critics, its first problem was a shortage as pre-orders overwhelmed supply.

But within days of the launch images of charred Note 7s began appearing on social media, in the first sign that something was seriously amiss with the gadget. Samsung has since recalled 2.5 million Note 7s due to faulty batteries.

South Korea’s Hankyoreh newspaper reported the firm planned to end Note 7 sales permanently. The company did not immediately comment on the report.

A person familiar with the matter said that Samsung had temporarily halted production of Note 7s. It was not clear when production would resume.

The South Korean firm did not immediately comment on whether it had identified the cause for the fires in replacement devices, although officials in Seoul said it was looking at several possibilities including the batteries.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission said Samsung was making the right decision by halting sales and exchanges of the device.

The US Federal Aviation Administration and South Korea’s transport ministry added their voices to concerns from the aviation industry, saying no Note 7s should be used or charged inside airplanes.

Verizon Communications Inc , the largest US wireless carrier, said it may shift marketing away from the Note 7 heading into the critical holiday selling season.

Shares in Samsung were down 6.7 percent as of 0520 GMT, compared with a 1.1 percent fall for the broader market, after touching their lowest level since September 28.

Apple shares, in contrast, hit their highest in 10 months on Monday on expectations the iPhone maker would benefit from its rival’s woes.