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This weekend I was kindly invited to London to learn a bit more about Qualcomm and some of the technologies they are working on. If you’re not a geek, it wouldn’t be surprising if you had no idea who they are, and consumer awareness of their brand is something they want to improve.
While you might not have heard of them, it is almost guaranteed that you have used their products. They are one of the largest companies in the world behind mobile and wireless technology. With sales of over $ 20 billion and a market capitalization of over $ 110 billion, they are one of the largest companies in the world.
More impressive than their assessment is the effect the company has had on modern communication technologies. In today’s market, there is a good chance that your smartphone is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon system on a chip (SoC). Their current Snapdragon 635 SoC is the main chip behind most of the flagship phones in the market today, which includes the Samsung Galaxy S8 in no European market, the Nokia 8, the LG V30, and the HTC U11.
Development of CDMA
Historically, they have been perhaps the most pioneering company in the mobile communications market. In the days of analog mobiles, as things went digital, Qualcomm invented CDMA which was a technology far superior to the current TDMA standard, CDMA technology was also widely used as part of the 3G revolution with the Verizon 3G network being based on CDMA.
Entering the mobile chip business there have been many technological firsts including the Scorpion mobile processor, the first 1 GHz processor, and the chip behind the first Android device.
They have tens of thousands of patents some of them almost prophetic in nature for example they developed a patent for assisted GPS but it was in 98 just 3 years after GPS was fully operational and when most GPS technologies weighed more than 1 kg. They also patented a keypad lock similar to the one you find now on all devices, but in 1999, and airplane mode in 2000. The large portfolio of patents is believed to be one of the critical factors for Qualcomm to fend off them. competing companies and dominate the market.
Since then, Qualcomm has been a key player in the development and deployment of 4G and 5G.
They see themselves more as engineers than anything else, and the company’s R&D budget currently stands at $ 49 billion.
# 1 Fabless Chip Maker
Oddly enough, although they’ve developed most of this technology, they’re a factory-less company, which means they don’t technically manufacture their own chips. Unlike other chipmakers like Samsung and Intel, they don’t even develop their own consumer tech. One could argue that this is one of the determining factors of their success, by not trying to restrict their technology to themselves, they have licensed all of their technology to any company willing to accept their licensing agreements. This means that their technology has been adopted by almost every major tech brand around the world and used for a wide variety of applications.
One of the key licensing deals for Qualcomm was their deals with Apple at the start of the iPhone, in 2011 Apple had to get into bed with Qualcomm to allow them to support CDMA. However, it was the start of a tumultuous relationship due to the large royalties Apple had to pay for the license agreement.
System on Chip (SoC)
With their modern chips, we often call them processors, but that’s a misnomer, and the correct term is system on a chip. Their chips literally integrate a complete system, including CPU, GPU, audio, WiFi, mobile network chips and more. Think of it as if all the components of your PC are integrated into a tiny chip. Indeed, while the SoC is wrongly called a processor, the CPU part of the chip only represents 15% of the SoC.
Qualcomm doesn’t just manufacture the SoC for mobile or mobile network infrastructure. They produce the technology for most WiFi routers and are the leading company in the development of superb wireless mesh technology. They are also the only company that still manufactures the technology behind the Powerline product that you find in Devolo devices.
The future technologies are equally impressive; The Snapdragon 845 was announced in November, which I’ll cover in more detail in the next blog post. Then there is the development of 5G technology which is extremely exciting and something else that I will cover in another blog post.