Innovation can truly come from anywhere. The story of Qualcomm begins, believe it or not, with a young and curious actress who hails from Vienna, Austria named Hedy Lamarr. The theory of what would be known as “spread-spectrum technology” was first born out of a key partnership with industrialist, Friedrich Mandl. Though she eventually went on to marry and subsequently, divorce Mandl, his obsession with warfare and arms sparked Lamrarr’s curiosity on warfare techniques. Specifically, she took an interest to the radio control of torpedoes and preventing the jamming of torpedoes. However, soon after Mandl’s involvement with the Nazi regime, Larmarr fled to the United States where she met and re-married to a man named George Antheil. His passion for music coupled with her passion for technology formed the knowledge base that music held the key to preventing a torpedo jam by using a radio frequency.
The theory behind the aforementioned war tactic was ...view middle of the document...
The “encryption” comprised of piano keys that were sent in small increments. In doing so, any obstructions to dismantling the course of the torpedo could be course corrected in the later increments that were sent to guide the torpedo to its destination. The idea broke the long-standing concept of single frequency communications and formed the basis of code division multiple access (CDMA). Spread-spectrum technology was a more advanced version of frequency hopping, which allowed various frequencies to be sent at the same time rather than sequentially.
Ultimately, the proliferation of the patented technology spread to the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, California. There, a partnership formed between Andrew Viterbi, a mathematician, and Irwin Mark Jacobs, a NASA Resident Research Fellow. They went on to become the founders of Linkabit, which slowly morphed into Qualcomm.
Qualcomm’s first product was called OmniTRACS, a satellite locating and messaging service. OmniTRACS was innovated upon and the very first CDMA-based cellular station was built. Nortel was a key partner in this venture. Nortel helped Qualcomm stabilize the base station and in return, Nortel was able to license Qualcomm’s technology. Qualcomm first standardized CDMA technology, then later went on to standardize CDMA2000, WCDMA, and LTE.
The wireless industry as an emerging technology is rife with standards. As learned from the Lightsquared failed technology, the firm was at first, wildly successful but failed because it could not operate within the social, economic, and political confines of the wireless industry at the time. For instance, government regulations had to be adhered to and wholly considered. Qualcomm not only operated within the political context, but also took advantage of patenting their technology for revenue-generating purposes. Additionally, these patents allowed Qualcomm to be a vanguard in early 3G standards. Even today, they carry the most patents relating to advanced 3G communications. By partnering up with government entities, keeping them closely involved as stakeholders, and being fully compliant, they are able to continually capitalize on their early technology concepts by scaling them up to meet customer needs.