The giant communications company you have probably never heard of

| 6 December 2012

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The name Qualcomm might not be familiar to most, but the technology they have developed is inside almost every communication devices we use every single day of our lives. Some refer to Qualcomm as “the giant communications company you probably have never heard off”.

Qualcomm is in the wireless communications business and they have been patenting technology since they started in 1985.

Irwin Jacobs founded the company with the initial idea to develop a commercial technology using satellites to monitor truck fleets.

Today OmniTRACS is the largest fleet management technology used in the United States.

Since 1985, Qualcomm has patented thousands of technologies that are used in most communication devices we use today from radios to smartphones and even GPS’s.

They’ve grown into communications giant with a current market cap of $108 billion. Just recently they surpassed Intel who at the moment has a market cap of around $100 billion.

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Qualcomm’s headquarters in San Diego, California to learn more about their technologies and what they are planning for the future.

The first thing you see as you enter the reception area is their impressive display of some of their patents along the wall. Currently Qualcomm owns over 13 000 communication patents.

One of Qualcomm’s main focuses today is on smartphone devices. Their Snapdragon chip, currently in its 4th generation, is impressive. The technology they have managed to fit onto such a small space is quite extraordinary. On that tiny chip you will find the heart and brains of the smart device.  The processor, graphics, connectivity and multi media are all on one chip the size of a coin. And it does all this in an incredibly efficient way.

Currently over 50 percent of smartphones shipped have Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor inside.

Qualcomm’s next big drive is into Africa. They believe that 3G devices still have a big role to play in Africa. Snapdragon chipsets are being reengineered to work more efficiently on African mobile networks that have their own unique challenges compared to other markets.

The price of smartphones is also dropping rapidly. Today manufacturers are making smartphones with the same specs as a high-end device 12 months ago and coming in at a price point of around $100.

LTE, the next generation wireless broadband still has a few years to go before it is adopted extensively in Africa. Spectrum will be an issue, and LTE will only grow when the digital television migration takes place and frees up current frequencies to be used for high-speed wireless broadband.

The smartphone revolution is just starting, this year alone Gartner predicts that 820 million smartphones will be sold and Qualcomm have predicted that 5 billion smartphones will be sold between 2012 and 2016.

To put this astounding growth into perspective Gartner says that 297 million smartphones were sold in 2010 and 472 million in 2012.

Qualcomm are also working on medical applications to be used in conjunction with smartphones. As these devices become more sophisticated, new applications and usage models are being developed. Already cameras in smartphones can be used to diagnose illnesses in eyes and because the image quality is so good, photographs can be used to pick up rare skin conditions for example.

Remember Star Trek and Dr McCoy’s tricorder? In the sci-fi series, the tricorder was a hand held computing device, that had a sensor attached to it which after scanning someone, it would diagnose various conditions of the human body. Those futuristic devices that we saw in Star Trek and other shows are now becoming a reality thanks to smartphone devices.

I’m not so sure that “Beam me up, Scotty” will work just yet, but at the rate that technology is moving, who knows what could happen in 10 years from now.

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