Qualcomm Then and Now—Will the Next 25 Be as Innovative as the Last 25?

It has been 25 years since seven former Linkabit employees met at Irwin Jacobs’ La Jolla home and founded a startup company to provide digital communications services. They saw their venture at the time in terms of QUALity COMMunications, and agreed to call the new company Qualcomm.

Since its beginnings in July 1985, Qualcomm has become a global pioneer in digital wireless technologies—especially with its proprietary Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) innovation in cellular communications—the world’s biggest mobile chipset provider, an $11 billion technology giant, and the largest company in San Diego. So Qualcomm has something to celebrate as the company marks its 25th anniversary on its website, and in events that have included appearances by Irwin Jacobs and his son, Qualcomm CEO and chairman Paul Jacobs.

Qualcomm’s success has been extraordinary by any measure, but especially in San Diego, where few technology and life science companies grow from seed-stage startups all the way to Fortune 500 goliaths. Whether by accident or design, San Diego operates more like a greenhouse nursery, where cultivated seedlings are usually sold after attaining a certain size, and in many cases transplanted or consolidated out of town.

Xconomy invited some of our top editorial advisors, or Xconomists, along with other wireless experts to offer their thoughts about the technology breakthroughs and other factors that enabled Qualcomm to flourish over the past 25 years—and whether the wireless giant can accomplish innovation on the same scale in the next 25 years. Here are their thoughts, and we invite you to join in the dialog:

San Diego Xconomist Ramesh Rao, Director of the San Diego Division of the California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology and Qualcomm Endowed Chair in Telecommunications and Information Technology at UC San Diego.

Xconomy: How did Qualcomm get to 25 years?

Ramesh Rao: “They got going as a serious wireless player very early in the S-curve of mobile communications. There was a lot of spectrum yet to be released all around the world at ever-greater auction prices, fueling the demand for ever-more efficient radios. Communications has universal appeal for billions of people on the planet, if it can be made sufficiently low-cost. So all that created a positive virtuous cycle.”

X: What were their key innovations or stratagems?

RR: “Strong focus on hard-core technical innovations. Seeking out and … 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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