SAN DIEGO—In their first joint address, father and son duo Paul and Irwin Jacobs on Thursday shared the story of Qualcomm’s ascent from a company with no products, no cash and seven employees to its current position as a multi-billion dollar wireless giant.
The Jacobs also shared their vision for the future of wireless, a future that involves the buildout of super-dense networks to support high-capacity wireless connectivity embedded in every gadget imaginable.
“Everyone said it was too complicated,” said Irwin Jacobs, co-founder of Qualcomm, in an interview with Wireless Week. “No one considered CDMA seriously… We were not well-received, in a sense.”
That’s putting it lightly. At the time, TDMA and FDMA were the dominant standards for wireless. CDMA seemed to have more capacity potential, but the industry believed it was too complex to be a practical technology. Qualcomm even faced criticism from a Stanford professor, who qualified the company’s claims about CDMA as “defying the laws of physics.”
Well, Qualcomm certainly had the last laugh. From the van-sized phone the company demonstrated in 1985, Qualcomm has gone on to create ever-improving chips for handsets and wirelessly embedded devices. CDMA provides 50 times the spectral efficiency of analog and has become a dominant 3G standard across the globe.
The ever-changing chip monolith is looking at a future beyond CDMA, a future that CEO Paul Jacobs calls the “Internet of everything.”
“[The phone] is going to mediate between the cyber world of data and the world we live in,” Paul Jacobs said in an interview. “It’s going to be a digital sixth sense.”
He envisions a world where everyone from itinerant farmers to high-powered executives will use wireless technology to better their lives. During the keynote, he pointed not to fancy technological breakthroughs as wireless’ greatest accomplishment. Instead, Paul Jacobs cited wireless’ humble ability to improve people’s lives as its finest asset.
He pointed to applications like Qualcomm’s “Farmer Friend,” which allows hundreds of millions of farmers in China to access abundant agricultural information like the weather forecast and market prices over a low-cost handset.
Innovation has its ups and downs. As the industry moves forward with bold new technologies, both the Jacobs said that the way the industry makes money will undergo radical changes.
“I do believe there is a business model [for these new technologies],” Paul Jacobs said in response to a question from CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent. “[Subscribers will] pay for wireless service in different ways.”
Irwin Jacobs picked up on that, saying that subscribers want to be able to bring their devices with them anywhere around the globe without being charged high fees. “The business models need to be thought through very carefully,” he added.
Infrastructure challenges also need to be met, particularly around backhaul. Citing the tremendous growth in data traffic, Paul Jacobs said that backhaul “doesn’t solve everything. It needs to get fixed because we sometimes have higher data speeds over the air than in the core networks, and that’s not a good thing.”
The future holds many different things for Qualcomm. The company is moving forward with mobile television, telehealth, M2M, mobile education initiatives, smartbooks and more. When asked by Wireless Week if Qualcomm runs the risk of losing focus, Irwin Jacobs said: “I would be more worried about not losing focus.”
Building on that sentiment, Paul Jacobs said Qualcomm tries to be both creative and focused. “I think the company has a right brain and a left brain,” he said. “Some people you tell to go wild, while others need to meet deadlines and focus on execution.”
Irwin Jacobs built on that sentiment, saying: “We continue to think of ourselves as a startup – but a startup with a good cash flow.”
Filed Under: Infrastructure