John Paczkowski

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Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs Live at D8

Paul JacobsQualcomm may not be a household name, but it probably should be.

The company commercialized the CDMA mobile standard and its chips can be found in many of today’s smartphones. If things play out as CEO Paul Jacobs would like, Qualcomm (QCOM) chips will soon be showing up in a wide variety of consumer electronics devices as well. As Jacobs said at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, “consumer electronics devices will essentially be phones inside–different shapes, different software, but fundamentally, inside they’ll be phones.”

With its latest chips, which ably bridge the performance gap between smartphones and larger devices like netbooks and tablets, Qualcomm is delivering on Jacobs’s prediction. And that is increasingly putting the company at odds with some formidable rivals in the ultramobile computing market–Intel (INTC), for example.


3:28 pm: Off to a bit of a late start here. The interview should begin momentarily.

3:31 pm: A few quick words of introduction from Walt, who notes that most of the folks in the audience have likely used Qualcomm products at one time or another, and Jacobs takes the stage.

3:32 pm: Walt–You make chips, right?

Jacobs: We ship 36 chips every second for cellphones around the world. These chips handle radio communications, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, all sorts of things. They essentially run mobile phones.

3:33 pm: Jacobs–Does anyone in this room have a simple GSMA phone? [No one does.] Then you’re all using our intellectual property.

3:35 pm: Some discussion of licensees. Jacobs notes that Foxconn is among them.

3:35 pm: Walt: Typically, your technology is buried in these devices, but now you’re introducing something that will be out front.

Jacobs says the company is working on a new display technology that uses the same thing a butterfly’s wing uses to make color. Because it’s reflective in that way, you can see it outside and in bright light. It does color and it does video. This isn’t a lab project. We’ve got a fab [fabrication], and it’s being developed.

Walt wonders when we’ll see it. Jacobs says Qualcomm hopes to get it to its partners next year.

3:37 pm: The display is called Mirasol, and it employs a bunch of tiny mirrors to display images.

Jacobs has brought a demo with him, and the display does seem impressive, certainly a big improvement over today’s e-ink.

As power-efficient as e-ink, but with color!

3:39 pm: Walt–Unlike a Kindle, this thing has color, plays video and better battery life.

Jacobs: If we’re using a still image outdoors, the battery will last for a very long time–it uses very little power. If we’re running stuff, animations for example, it won’t run quite as long. But it will still be a significant improvement over what we see in devices like the Kindle and iPad today.

3:41 pm: Walt–What about downsizing these screens? Will they work on cellphones?

Jacobs says they will. In fact, Qualcomm is working with someone to develop a watch that uses it.

Walt: And this can support multitouch?

Jacobs: Yes. The display, because its MEMS technology, there are other things we can integrate into it–antennas and whatnot.

3:43 pm: Walt–So will this be a Qualcomm reader or will you build it for someone else?

Jacobs: We’ll be developing this for partners

3:44 pm: So why did you get out of the device business, asks Walt.

Jacobs: Because we sucked at it. I just said, you know this is not our core competency. So today we’re focused on chips. Technology is moving so quickly these days that if you’re not focused, you just end up doing things badly. We’re very focused on the chip business.

3:45 pm: Walt–You’ve jumped into the brains of the phone business, yes?

Jacobs: Yes we have. It’s called Snapdragon and its a microprocessor that uses ARM. These are very lower-power chipsets.

Paul Jacobs of Qualcomm.

3:47 pm: Walt–But these chips are going into high-power devices. They can’t have wimpy processors.

Jacobs agrees and notes that Qualcomm is developing multicore processors for smartphones. “You think about the phone, why do you need the phone to turn on to do stuff? You don’t need to turn on the entire user interface to do something like email. So we’re managing power very carefully to extend usage time.”

3:49 pm: Walt–Is Intel (INTC) your biggest competitor?

Jacobs: That depends. Intel is on the high end. There are other smaller companies though that are low-end threats.

Walt: Do you power BlackBerrys?

Jacobs: The Verizon (VZ) Blackberrys run our chips.

3:50 pm: Walt asks for Jacobs’s thoughts on Intel’s “Intel Inside” campaign, which made the company a known brand. Has Qualcomm considered doing something similar?

Jacobs: You know we have Qualcomm Stadium, says Jacobs. And sometimes people think we make beer, not chips. The truth of the matter is, I sell to the manufacturers and the operators, but we don’t sell directly to the consumer, so a big branding campaign like that isn’t a big concern.

3:53 pm: Conversation moves on to Qualcomm’s FlowTV service. Walt notes that it hasn’t really been successful, and Jacobs agrees. But he adds that it has great potential for the future, particularly in terms of broadcasting information to smartphones, a la PointCast.

3:56 pm: Jacobs: Today when you think about FlowTV, you think about cable TV on your phone. Tomorrow, it will be more of a data service.

3:57 pm: Walt–Obviously, we’re heading toward a bandwidth congestion problem. Is there a solution?

Jacobs: Fixing the backhaul problem already helps. We’re now going to more and wider spectrum, and that helps as well. Fourth generation will feel like you’re getting a better experience as a user. The big issue, though, is getting more access to spectrum, moving people off of it. Adding additional Wi-Fi access points that are integrated into the cellular network will help as well.

Walt: Is it a good trade-off in our country to reallocate the broadcast spectrum?

Jacobs: That’s a tough question because there are people who still use it.

Q & A

Q: Qualcomm seems to be involved in a lot of sensor work. Can you talk about that?

A: One of the things we’re involved in is the development of sensors, sensors that can be stuck onto your body and can talk to your phone. Glucose monitors, for example. But battery life is very important here. So we’re spending a lot of effort developing these technologies for health care with that in mind.

Q: Can you compare SnapDragon to Apple’s A4?

A: I don’t know a lot about that because we haven’t done a tear-down of Apple’s (AAPL) processor.

Q: Can you talk about your BREW [binary runtime environment for wireless] OS and where it might be heading?

A: We actually have a lot of demand for it now. In addition to Verizon, it’s going into AT&T (T) and into Chinese operators. HTC actually just built a phone that’s BREW-based. If you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would have said BREW was headed to emerging markets. Now I think it’s headed to the low-end of the high-end market.

Q: Do you think there are other areas in which your technology might be used, education, for example?

A: Jacobs notes an experiment in education where one classroom was given cellphones running Qualcomm tech and others weren’t, and the group with the phones showed a marked improvement in its grades. “The cellphone is humanity’s biggest platform. If we can’t use it to change education or health care, then shame on us.”

A note about our coverage: This liveblog is not an official transcript of the conversation that occurred onstage. Rather, it is a compilation of quotes, paraphrased statements and ad-lib observations written and posted to the Web as quickly as possible. It is not intended as a transcript and should not be interpreted as one.

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