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From Information Theory Courses at MIT to Providing Chips and Technology for a World with Four Billion Cellular Subscribers: Memories and a Look Ahead

02/19/2009 4:30 PM 10"250
Dr. Irwin Mark Jacobs, SM '57 PhD '59, Chairman, Qualcomm, Inc.

Description: Cellphone and mobile communication aficionados (not to mention the rest of us) appreciate that our favorite tech gadgets increasingly resemble props from Star Trek. A shout out then to Irwin Jacobs and Qualcomm, the company perhaps most responsible for such astonishing gear.

In his talk, Jacobs narrates his journey from MIT, as a faculty member in the early 60s, to California and his initial entrepreneurial venture, Linkabit. Jacobs and other MIT talent applied information theory to projects for NASA and JPL, including coding for deep space probes, and processor designs. Before Jacobs moved on, Linkabit had come up with the idea for satellites that enabled live data communications between headquarters and retail stores for both Wal"Mart and 7"11. The company's designs led to the direct broadcast satellite systems for XM and Direct TV. Its digital scrambling system fed digital technology into TV transmissions.

The even bigger story for Jacobs (and the world) involves his next venture, Qualcomm (for Quality Communications), launched in 1985. This fruitful collaboration among MIT and Linkabit graduates launched the wireless telecommunications revolution. Qualcomm first gave the trucking industry OmniTRACS, a satellite"based commercial mobile system, and then dreamed up a technology for wireless and data devices -- Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) -- that has revolutionized business and personal communications.

Qualcomm made it possible for a multitude of users to share a confined spectrum space, and then for high speed data to fit comfortably alongside voice applications. There are four billion mobile subscribers around the world, says Jacobs, of which 100 million users get voice plus data. Even in these dire economic times, new subscribers are growing, and he predicts six billion subscribers by 2013.

Qualcomm's hard at work optimizing how data and voice share transmissions, making new applications possible (and affordable) worldwide. The goal: wireless broadband connectivity for all, and to each his or her own Smartphone or Kindle. As cellphones proliferate and merge with mobile computing, we'll be able to keep tabs on each other via GPS, says Jacobs. He believes phones "will quickly replace credit cards, even replace money." He sees particular opportunities in telemedicine, where phones armed with sensors can transmit patient information to specialists in hospitals, who then zip back treatment recommendations. Jacobs takes pride in Qualcomm's efforts to leverage wireless cellphone tech for social benefits: helping Indonesian women in business ventures; bringing farmers and fishermen a way of determining market prices for their goods without a middle man; and bringing in 3G phones for kids without computer capability in China.

About the Speaker(s): Irwin Mark Jacobs pioneered the development and commercialization of Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) digital wireless technology. He served as chief executive officer of Qualcomm until July 2005.

Jacobs previously served as co"founder, president, CEO and chairman of LINKABIT Corporation, directing its growth from a few part"time employees in 1969 to more than 1,400 employees in 1985 and first introduction of Ku"band Very Small Aperture Earth Terminals (VSATs), commercial TDMA wireless phones, and the VideoCipher satellite"to"home TV system. LINKABIT merged with M/A"COM in August 1980. More than 35 San Diego telecommunications companies, including Qualcomm, trace their roots back to LINKABIT.

From 1959 to 1966, Jacobs was an assistant/associate professor of electrical engineering at MIT. From 1966 to 1972 he served as a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of California, San Diego. At MIT, Dr. Jacobs co"authored a basic textbook on digital communications entitled, Principles of Communication Engineering.

Jacobs has received numerous honors, including the National Medal of Technology Award in 1994 -- the highest award bestowed by the president of the United States for extraordinary achievements in the commercialization of technology, or the development of human resources that foster technology. He earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1956 from Cornell University and his SM and Ph.D in electrical engineering from MIT.

Host(s): School of Engineering, School of Engineering

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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