Qualcomm Gets Active with Wireless Fitness Challenge: Q&A with VP Don Jones

Qualcomm, the San Diego wireless technology giant, launched an internal “wireless fitness challenge” almost four weeks ago for a group of its employees—testing the idea of using similar workplace competitions to promote awareness of wireless health technologies.

When vice president Don Jones kicked off the challenge on July 14, he wrote in a Qualcomm blog that 32 employees were organized into four teams for the eight-week challenge to increase activity and lose weight. Contestants got an armband monitor from Pittsburgh, PA-based BodyMedia or an Internet-connected wireless weight scale from Withings of Issy-les-Moulineaux, France, (or both) to capture weight loss, calories burned, sleep, and overall activity levels.

“These devices wirelessly send our health data to the cloud, where we have built a platform that seamlessly ‘mashes up’ our information from both devices and leverages the BodyMedia analytics,” Jones writes in his blog. The results will be weighed, so to speak, to determine the winners, who also happen to be the biggest losers. (In an aside, Jones tells me by e-mail, “I doubt the Fortune 500 would get behind the ‘biggest loser’ branding.”)

While the challenge looks a lot like a publicity stunt, Matthew Holt of San Francisco-based Health 2.0 said during a mobile health and social networking conference in San Diego last week that there has been a big explosion in employer-based health, wellness, and fitness initiatives that rely on emerging mobile health and social networking technologies.

“We will also be posting follow up blogs, videos, check-ins with some of the team members, etc.,” Qualcomm spokesman Garrett Ponder told me recently by e-mail. Ponder, who also has been participating in the challenge, tweeted on July 29 that he burned 4,715 calories the previous day. On July 31, another participant tweeted: “Just 2 weeks & already over 1 Million calories burned by the 32 peeps in the Qualcomm Wireless Fitness Challenge!”

You get the idea.

Ponder also routed a few Xconomy questions to Don Jones, and provided these answers:

Xconomy: After two weeks, how would you describe the progress so far, both for the team and you personally?

Don Jones: So far, the progress has been good. On a daily basis at Qualcomm you see participants taking the stairs instead of the elevator, tweeting about their workouts, and genuinely focusing more on their activity. The real-time feedback from wireless health devices provides additional motivation throughout the day. Personally, the BodyMedia armband has been helpful because I bring it everywhere with me. In the past two weeks I have traveled to London, back to San Diego, and to the East Coast for business. Being able to monitor my activity during lengthy travel is eye-opening.

X: And supposing this gets rolled out to the rest of Qualcomm, and then to other big companies, do you see it becoming a competition, like “The Biggest Loser”?

DJ: The plan is to roll out a wireless health program offering to the rest of Qualcomm employees, and eventually broaden it to corporations in several geographical regions and industry sectors. We want to highlight how wireless technologies enable new connected health applications and services, which will transform the way we go about managing our own fitness and wellness. By collecting and mashing up data from multiple devices, you can create personal feedback dashboards and incentives that are both relevant and unique to individual consumers.

X: How are the teams organized?

DJ: 32 members of the wireless health team are participating in the Qualcomm Wireless Fitness Challenge. Spanning 4 countries and 3 continents, we have interns and executives competing against one another to increase activity and weight loss to improve overall health.

Asked for an update this morning, Ponder says via e-mail: “We are almost halfway done and no mutinies so far. We plan to put out a video blog with testimonials from a few participants this week (likely tomorrow) and I am currently pulling together stats on the total calories burned/pounds lost for all participants…I had a big day because my wife and I ran/walked about 7 miles and then ran a bunch of errands, but don’t reveal my secrets to the rest of the competitors.

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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  • Paul Sonnier writes:

    Kudos to Don Jones and Qualcomm for their efforts in fostering the growth of the global wireless health ecosystem for the past several years.

    As you’ve probably noticed, the Qualcomm team has been discussing this competition in the Wireless Health group on LinkedIn. The really neat thing is that the dialog is two-way, and includes other experts outside of the company. Given that the group is comprised of several thousand professionals located around the globe and representative of all constituencies, I believe this promotes knowledge sharing and helps to accelerate the adoption of wireless health.

    For any of your readers who may be interested, here’s the discussion: http://lnkd.in/X3UiYd (While you don’t have to join the group to view it, I think you do need to be registered with LinkedIn.)


    Paul Sonnier
    Vice President, Partner Development, Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance (WLSA)
    Founder, Wireless Health group on LinkedIn: