The Importance of Qualcomm in Mobile Phone Technology

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This weekend I was kindly invited down to London to learn a bit about Qualcomm and some of the technologies they are working on. If you are not a geek, it wouldn’t be surprising if you have no idea who they are, and consumer knowledge of their brand is something they want to improve.

While you may not have heard of them, it is almost guaranteed you have used their products. They are one of the biggest companies in the world behind mobile and wireless technology. With a revenue of over $20 billion and a market cap of over $110 billion, they are one of the largest companies in the world.

More impressive than their valuation is the effect the company has had on modern communications technologies. In today's market, there is a good chance your smartphone has a Qualcomm Snapdragon System on Chip (SoC). Their current Snapdragon 635 SoC is the main chip behind most flagship phones are the market today which include the Samsung Galaxy S8 in none European markets, the Nokia 8, LG V30, and the HTC U11.

Development of CDMA

Historically they have been perhaps the most pioneering company in the mobile communications market. Back in the day of analogue mobiles, just as things were switching over to digital, Qualcomm invented CDMA which was a far superior technology than the current TDMA standard, the CDMA technology was also widely used as part of the 3G revolution with the Verizon 3G network being based on CDMA.

Moving into the mobile chip business, there were behind many technology firsts including the Scorpion mobile CPU, the first 1GHz CPU and the chip behind the first Android device.


They have tens of thousands of patents with some of them being almost prophetic in nature, for example, they developed a patent for assisted GPS, but this was in 98 just 3 years after GPS was fully operational and when most GPS tech weighed over 1KG. They also patented a keypad lock similar to what you find on all devices now, but back in 1999, and airplane mode back in 2000. It is believed that the vast patent portfolio is one of the critical factors in Qualcomm fending off competing companies and dominating the market.

Since then Qualcomm has been one of the key players in the development and deployment of 4G and 5G.

They view themselves more as engineers than anything and the R&D budget for the company currently stands at $49 billion.

#1 Fabless Chip Maker

Curiously though, while they have developed most of this technology, they are a fabless company, mean they don’t technically make their own chips. Unlike other chips companies such as Samsung and intel they don’t even develop their own consumer technology. It could be argued this is one of the driving factors behind their success, by not trying to restrict their technology to themselves, they have licenced all their technology to any company that is willing to agree to their licensing agreements. This has meant that their technology has been adopted by nearly all the major tech brands in the world and used for a wide variety of applications.

One of the key licencing deals for Qualcomm was their deals with Apple in the early days of the iPhone, back in 2011, Apple had to get into bed with Qualcomm to allow them to support CDMA. However, this was the start of a tumultuous relationship due to the significant royalties Apple had to pay for the licencing agreement.

System on Chip (SoC)

With their modern chips, we often call them processors, but this is a misnomer, and the correct term is a System on Chip. Their chips literally have a full system built into it, including the CPU, GPU, Audio, Wifi, mobile network chips and more. Think of it like all the components of your PC being integrated into one tiny chip. In fact, while we wrongly call the SoC a processor, the CPU part of the chip only represents 15% of the SoC.

Qualcomm doesn’t just make the SoC for mobiles or the mobile network infrastructure. They produce the technology being most WiFi routers and are the leading company developing the superb wireless mesh technology. They are also the only company still manufacturing the technology behind powerline product that you find in Devolo devices.

The Future

The future technologies are just as impressive; the Snapdragon 845 was announced in November which I will cover further in the next blog post. Then there is the development of the 5G technology which is extremely exciting and something else I will cover in a further blog post.

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