Providing Chips and Technology for a World with Four Billion Cellular Subscribers

author: Irwin Mark Jacobs, Qualcomm
published: Aug. 7, 2012,   recorded: February 2009,   views: 2819

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Cellphone and mobile communication aficionados (not to mention the rest of us) appreciate that our favorite tech gadgets increasingly resemble props from Star Trek. A shout out then to Irwin Jacobs and Qualcomm, the company perhaps most responsible for such astonishing gear.

In his talk, Jacobs narrates his journey from MIT, as a faculty member in the early 60s, to California and his initial entrepreneurial venture, Linkabit. Jacobs and other MIT talent applied information theory to projects for NASA and JPL, including coding for deep space probes, and processor designs. Before Jacobs moved on, Linkabit had come up with the idea for satellites that enabled live data communications between headquarters and retail stores for both Wal-Mart and 7-11. The company’s designs led to the direct broadcast satellite systems for XM and Direct TV. Its digital scrambling system fed digital technology into TV transmissions.

The even bigger story for Jacobs (and the world) involves his next venture, Qualcomm (for Quality Communications), launched in 1985. This fruitful collaboration among MIT and Linkabit graduates launched the wireless telecommunications revolution. Qualcomm first gave the trucking industry OmniTRACS, a satellite-based commercial mobile system, and then dreamed up a technology for wireless and data devices -- Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) -- that has revolutionized business and personal communications.

Qualcomm made it possible for a multitude of users to share a confined spectrum space, and then for high speed data to fit comfortably alongside voice applications. There are four billion mobile subscribers around the world, says Jacobs, of which 100 million users get voice plus data. Even in these dire economic times, new subscribers are growing, and he predicts six billion subscribers by 2013.

Qualcomm’s hard at work optimizing how data and voice share transmissions, making new applications possible (and affordable) worldwide. The goal: wireless broadband connectivity for all, and to each his or her own Smartphone or Kindle. As cellphones proliferate and merge with mobile computing, we’ll be able to keep tabs on each other via GPS, says Jacobs. He believes phones “will quickly replace credit cards, even replace money.” He sees particular opportunities in telemedicine, where phones armed with sensors can transmit patient information to specialists in hospitals, who then zip back treatment recommendations. Jacobs takes pride in Qualcomm’s efforts to leverage wireless cellphone tech for social benefits: helping Indonesian women in business ventures; bringing farmers and fishermen a way of determining market prices for their goods without a middle man; and bringing in 3G phones for kids without computer capability in China.

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