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

10/9/09Follow @bvbigelow

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now 4.5 billion cell phone users around the world. People use wireless phones in ways he never conceived when Qualcomm was founded in 1985, and Irwin says the range of capabilities and applications allows Qualcomm to have tremendous influence.

“People everywhere want to have a phone,” Irwin says. “A key aspect of that is that the price of both the service and the phones are coming down. I remember saying maybe someday we could get the price of phones to $100 and now in India you can buy phones for $20 at wholesale.”

The industry’s explosive growth also prompted a discussion about spectrum constraints.

Paul Jacobs

Paul Jacobs

“We’ve gotten to the point in the labs where we have done what we know how to do to optimize any given radio wave,” Paul says. What he describes as “all-you-can-eat data plans” also are now forcing wireless operators to focus on what he calls the “backhaul” capacity of conventional phone networks to absorb all the incoming traffic from cellular networks. “We actually in some cases have higher data rates over the air than we do back to the core networks, and that’s not a good thing,” Paul says.

His description of increasing wireless traffic helps to explain Qualcomm’s efforts to encourage the development of so-called femtocells, a kind of micro-cellular access point typically designed for use in a residential or small business environment. Last month, for example, Qualcomm announced a licensing agreement that enables Global Wireless Technologies of Minneapolis, MN, to develop, manufacture and sell femtocells based on Qualcomm’s proprietary digital wireless technology.

Irwin and Paul also discussed wireless innovations, although it was unclear in some cases if the products they described are under development:

—Qualcomm unveiled plans earlier this week to introduce a hand-held television for its satellite-based Flo TV service that has a 3.5-inch screen and a suggested retail price of $250. Irwin and Paul each held up one of the Flo TV-branded mobile devices, which will be available for sale in time for the holiday season. Qualcomm doesn’t disclose the number of Flo TV’s subscribers, but they aren’t where the company wants them to be, according to COO Len Lauer, and the new gadget appears to be one more way to attract subscribers to the service.

—Paul described a wireless charging system that looks like a platter and will be capable of recharging multiple mobile devices at the same time. He says, “You just put the stuff down on the platter and it gets charged.”

—Irwin says he’d like a mobile device equipped with facial-recognition software and that can also determine who all the people are in a room by identifying the cell phones they’re carrying. He says as he gets older, it gets harder and harder to remember the names of all the people he meets. He might have been kidding, though, because he still seems pretty sharp to me.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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