All Things Connected: Qualcomm Executives Talk About Mobile Complexity

5/6/11Follow @bvbigelow

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the stage by Steve Mollenkopf, the executive vice president who oversees Qualcomm’s chip development, and Matt Grob, the senior vice president for research and development. And if the catch phrase for Jacobs’ opening comments was “simplifying complexity,” the watchword for Mollenkopf last night was “integration,” as the world’s biggest maker of mobile chips works to integrate more and more functions in its systems and chipsets.

Most people think of integration as a physical process of adding increased capabilities and functionality into the chip design, Mollenkopf said. What really is happening, though, is integration throughout the “connective tissue” of the entire system. “You need to be good at the graphics, you need to be good at the processor, and you need to be good at the modem,” Mollenkopf said. “But being good at all that really only allows you to play.”

As the competition intensifies in wireless technology development, Jacobs said the Qualcomm business is going to be increasingly about maximizing functionality through integration, minimizing power consumption, and meeting global demand for ever-lower price points.

Asked if Qualcomm can still operate profitably at the lowest of low-end devices in markets in India and China, Mollenkopf replied, “We’ve been selling CDMA phones and competing against GSM in India for some time. It taught us how to after very low cost points [with devices priced under $30], but the integration you have to achieve was very high. Now that same technology is being used to bring smart phones down to these same low price points.”

John Jackson, a Boston-based analyst with the market research and consulting firm CCS Insight, also asked Grob to discuss his R&D philosophy at Qualcomm. While officially Qualcomm’s research and development group has criteria for evaluating various technical innovations, Grob said they don’t necessarily adhere to the priorities set by wireless operators and other customers. Every proposal has to have the potential to have a global impact, Grob said.

Jackson also prompted an interesting response from Jacobs when he asked the Qualcomm CEO if he agreed with the pronouncement from Microsoft’s former chief software architect Ray Ozzie that technology has entered the “post-PC era.”

“I think the biggest indication of that is when Microsoft came out at the Consumer Electronics Show and said, ‘We’re going to port our Windows operating system to mobile,’” Jacobs answered. For the software giant, he explained that the move represents a fundamental shift from developing software for the central processor at the heart of the desktop PC to the Advanced RISC Machine (ARM) chip at the heart of mobile devices. Jacobs later said that he anticipates a “tipping point” when computer makers will switch from CPU-based design to ARM architecture. Jacobs didn’t predict when that would happen, but he says that like any tipping point, it will happen “fairly quickly” once it does.

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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