“If this country is to continue leading the world both economically and technologically, then someone has to be willing to spend money on silly risks. Someone has to fund a production line for the integrated circuit computers that T.I. can’t see a use for. Someone has to send rockets into space for no other reason than because we can, and because we should see what happens after that. It’s the American way.”—Alex Koppelman on what Mitt Romney doesn’t understand about America and its innovators: http://nyr.kr/LZ0Rxa
Irwin Jacobs: Qualcomm founder talks about the future of wireless technologies
JASON PONTIN @ technologyreview.com conducted an interesting Q/A session with Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs. Mr. Jacobs offered some inside details on the business side of things and provided guidance for future applications as well.
Qualcomm provided Google with the Snapdragon chip, to launch a phone that didn’t require contracts with carriers. The business model didn’t work. Why not? What other models might reduce the heavy weight the carriers exert upon innovation?
Google didn’t press it very hard because they were then competing with other manufacturers who were making Android phones. And so between not being marketed actively and having more limited distribution and support, that model did not work. But there are certainly situations where you can buy phones retail and then sign up with an operator for the service. We’ll see how that develops. There are also other models such as the one that Kindle started, and others have followed, where when you order a book using your Kindle, the information goes out over a cellular network, the book comes back over a cellular network, but you don’t pay separately for it—it’s just buried in the price of the book. We’ll see a number of different business models, driven by competition, driven by the various applications.
What can the wireless industry do to keep up with and manage the unprecedented demands being placed on the network by the growth of mobile video?
The interest of subscribers in video became apparent in South Korea when we first launched some of the 3G services. Video on phones is just going to continue to increase. I don’t think users are going to broadcast so much as want video on demand. And that does load the network down quite a bit. That’s the reason we developed our MediaFLO technology [a service from Qualcomm that lets mobile carriers stream videos on cell phones]: we wanted a separate frequency band to provide a forward link that carries the videos to the phone. I suspect that additional forward-link-capacity spectrum will be made available and used to support video. The other way one gets spectrum is by having additional base stations. What we’ll see is the network evolving to have more and more access points. Some may be in your home. But the spectrum’s limited, so we’ll have to do things such as reuse the same spectrum.
The mobile market is by no means now limited just to phones. How will Qualcomm change as tablets and other devices become increasingly common?
The key issue with these new devices will be that they’ll need chips that use very little energy and provide a lot of computing power. We recognized this early on, and we set up a whole group to research the problem. That’s where Snapdragon came from. Those chips were initially only in phones but are now moving up into other devices. This is an important area for Qualcomm, because I believe that tablets will probably become the major computing devices for most people.
Augmented reality has been a significant investment for Qualcomm. Why do you think that augmented reality will be such an important function on our mobile devices?
There are lots of interesting new capabilities. Say I’m in a foreign country: there’s a street sign I can’t read, so I hold up my phone, and it translates the sign for me. We’re beginning to see other examples show up. You might do product comparisons in a shop. You could locate friends who are willing to be located when you approach an area. Since my memory is not as good as it once was, particularly for faces, one I like very much is the possibility of a phone’s camera seeing a face and whispering in my ear who that person is.
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