Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

Qualcomm learning how to incubate new technologies

Stephen Lawson | March 12, 2013
Qualcomm has a big, well-funded research and development operation, but its program for commercializing new innovations is still a learning experience for the wireless chip maker.

Qualcomm has a big, well-funded research and development operation, but its program for commercializing new innovations is still a learning experience for the wireless chip maker.

Qualcomm Labs was set up about two and a half years ago to explore ways to bring new technologies into the world. Despite its name, the division isn't where Qualcomm actually does its core research and development, an effort that commanded nearly US$1 billion of investment in fiscal 2012, about 20 percent of the company's revenue. Instead, Qualcomm Labs is an incubator for ideas that might lead to more revenue in the future.

At a media event on Friday in San Francisco, company executives talked about a handful of technologies that Qualcomm Labs has helped along. One, LTE broadcast, is designed to make better use of mobile operators' spectrum and improve streaming media performance. Another, called Gimbal, creates a "digital sixth sense" to give mobile applications greater contextual awareness.

Such are examples of technologies that could eventually benefit Qualcomm, either directly through licensing or indirectly by boosting sales of the company's chips. The Labs unit looks for innovations that might create new revenue streams for Qualcomm, open up new mobile markets or make the company's chips "stickier" with useful, chip-intensive features. Qualcomm Labs may use each technology to form a new division, roll it back into an existing one or sell off the technology.

"We've done maybe a dozen projects over the past two and a half years," said Liz Gasser, vice president of business operations at Qualcomm Labs. "We've shut down a third of them. A third of them have spun out, and third of them are still going and live," she said.

One early success at Qualcomm Labs was 2Net, a service for transmitting health information. The 2Net ecosystem includes devices that collect health data, gateways that send that data to cellular networks and a protected Qualcomm data center that processes the data and sends it to caregivers, said Peggy Johnson, Qualcomm's president of global market development.

Johnson is an executive vice president of the company and has worked at Qualcomm for more than 20 years. Qualcomm Labs helped the mobile health initiative make the leap into the real world, where it's now commercially available, she said. "We've been talking about wireless health for a decade. It wasn't really moving very fast," Johnson said.

Likewise, Gimbal gave Qualcomm a way to make more use of numerous sensors it had developed for mobile devices, she said. Gimbal now has an SDK for Android and iOS that lets developers enrich their apps by using components such as cameras and location sensors. For example, a promotional app for the next "Star Trek" movie lets fans earn points by pointing their cameras at posters for the movie, and when they walk by a theater that will be showing the movie on opening day, they will get offers to buy advance tickets.

 

1  2  Next Page 

Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.