From a Trickle to Flash Flood: Qualcomm’s Father-Son Dynasty Follows Course of Mobile Data Services

The co-founders who introduced San Diego-based Qualcomm’s wireless digital technology in 1989 envisioned from the early days that it would be ideal for the Internet. But Irwin Jacobs says now even he’s amazed at how many things a cell phone can do today.

A new generation of innovators is now using Qualcomm’s proprietary technology to develop new cellular devices and services in such fields as healthcare, transportation, and energy—and “None of that was quite obvious to us in the early days,” Jacobs said in a presentation at a wireless conference in San Diego yesterday. Yet the Qualcomm co-founder and his son, Qualcomm chairman and CEO Paul Jacobs, also say the wireless industry is pushing the limits of cellular networks by cranking out ever-faster wireless devices that feature more and more mobile data services. Many of the new products just over the horizon are driven by Qualcomm’s own advances in technology—including 4G smartphones, netbook computers, and palm-size wireless TVs.

Rapid changes in cellular technology and the potential for network constraints became part of a wide-ranging keynote address at the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment conference in San Diego. Unlike most keynotes, though, Qualcomm’s father-and-son dynasty appeared together onstage for what was intended to be a living-room discussion with CTIA president Steve Largent, the former Oklahoma Republican Congressman and Hall of Fame pro football receiver.

Irwin Jacobs

Irwin Jacobs

One of their most interesting revelations came while Irwin, who turns 76 later this month, was discussing the technology advances that led to the current generation of smartphones. Despite rapid technology advances, the market for mobile Web-based services was slow to develop, and Irwin observed, “The iPhone was really a major breakthrough, in terms of developing a simple interface.”

Paul added, “We always used to talk about developing the killer app, and the killer app ended up being a simple user interface,” and he says most advances in computing capabilities and graphics technologies are now focused on making the interface even simpler to use. Paul, who was named Qualcomm’s CEO in 2005 and chairman earlier this year, says he envisions a future in which wireless technologies are “increasingly embedded in everything,” enabling a homeowner to use their cell phone to remotely control their TV, stereo, and lights.

According to Irwin, wireless networks provide cellular coverage for roughly 80 percent of the world population today, and he estimates there are … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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