Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha Talks Cloud Computing Strategy—and Eyes Bringing Mobile Division to San Diego

Sanjay Jha was lured from Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) to serve as co-CEO of Schaumburg, IL-based Motorola (NYSE: MOT) and the CEO of the nearby Motorola Mobility division, which includes mobile handsets, wireless accessories, and home digital media devices. Now there’s a chance the wireless industry’s prodigious son might return to San Diego—and bring the headquarters of Motorola Mobility with him.

Motorola Mobility is the division that is set to become an independent company by the first quarter of 2011, and Jha says he plans to decide before the end of this year whether to put the new corporate headquarters in Austin, TX, Silicon Valley, or San Diego. Jha’s family still lives in San Diego, and he has retained ties here. So local interest in his pending decision is high, and there was a good turnout when he appeared as a guest speaker this morning at a regular meeting of the San Diego Venture Group.

Sanjay JhaJha was forthright from the outset, saying “the days of us living off the fumes of the Razor are gone” and that Motorola Mobility had to develop a new strategy to anticipate the coming era of mobile data.

The Motorola executive estimates that today just 5 to 8 percent of U.S. mobile users are consuming 60 to 70 percent of the mobile data traffic. But he also notes that smartphones now account for 45 percent of all U.S. cell phone sales—and that share will be 60 to 65 percent by the end of the year. He says the accelerating popularity of smartphones and less costly data plans will catalyze widespread use of mobile data, which in turn will engender far greater use of mobile video and multimedia offerings.

Jha says that would send mobile data usage soaring—and that there is not enough wireless spectrum available for the time when the average mobile customer is using 3 gigabytes a month.

As a result, Jha says he views the home as the place where mobile users will transfer video, multimedia, and other large data files from their wireline Internet service to their wireless devices. He sees a migration in the capabilities of Motorola’s cable TV set-top box, which is the other major business he oversees, that will make it more of a data center and “mini-cloud” for managing multiple devices and data downloading.

“That was the strategic reason we put these two businesses together,” Jha says. Under Jha, Motorola Mobility has been integrating the capabilities of mobile devices with the division’s home-oriented businesses of making set-top boxes, cable, and satellite infrastructure equipment. It also is worth noting that Motorola got its set-top box business in 2000, through its $17-billion acquisition of Horsham, PA-based General Instrument, which developed its set-top boxes at a facility in San Diego that Motorola continues to operate today.

“This notion of cloud computing is so real,” Jha adds. “It’s a huge trend and it is fundamentally important. Yet there also is this notion of a ‘home cloud’ that could be your cloud-within-the-cloud.” He suggests the home cloud could become the repository of all the information, records, and digital media entertainment a family needs, with security and privacy protections serving as a buffer with the more encompassing cloud represented by Amazon web services and other general cloud computing offerings.

Jha came to San Diego at least two decades ago from the GEC Hirst Research Labs in London (after getting his doctorate in electronic and electrical engineering from Scotland’s University of Strathclyde), and worked for mixed-signal chip developer Brooktree before joining Qualcomm in 1994. He became a tour-de-force at the San Diego wireless giant, rising from senior engineer at Qualcomm VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration) to vice president of engineering, and he led the formation of Qualcomm Technologies and Ventures in 2002. He became president of Qualcomm CDMA Technologies in 2003, and was named the company’s COO in 2006.

Jha joined Motorola in August 2008. In addition to planning the corporate spinout and strategy for Motorola Mobility, he has overseen development of a successful series of smartphones, including the original Droid by Motorola, Cliq, and Droid X.

Although Jha moved to Chicago, his family remained in San Diego, where he returns to spend most weekends. A few months after he arrived, the Windy City suffered what he calls “the worst Chicago winter in 40 years.” During his talk, Jha joked that during that dreary time, “I was telling people about moving the company, and I said, ‘I’m a fair man, I’ll give my team three choices: Central San Diego, Northern San Diego, and Southern San Diego.’ “

Of course, that was just what the hometown audience wanted to hear. They roared with laughter.

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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