Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A latte with Qualcomm

Late yesterday afternoon I was tired and trolling through the South Hall at CES when I spotted a barista station at the Qualcomm booth and pulled up for a nice latte made by the local San Diego coffee company Qualcomm brought up to Vegas. At the other end of the cafe bar stood CEO Paul Jacobs, so I made use of the serendipity and sidled over for a short, informal chat. Here are some outtakes from our coffee break:

Taking a view of the more cool things available for the cellphone the better, Jacobs says he welcomes local TV stations to the mobile broadcasting world Qualcomm is pursuing with its MediaFlo service. “Some people like to fight over the scraps, but I’d rather grow the whole pie,” he said.

He agreed with my observation the TV stations will find Hollywood knocking on their door for mobile royalties before they turn on the new services. “The hardest part of getting the MediaFlo service started was clearing the content rights,” he said.

Another nagging issue the local broadcasters face is understanding the black magic of getting good wireless coverage. The MediaFlo folks just finished a re-evaluation of some of their key markets, adding new base stations in spots where follow up surveys found coverage was spotty.

I asked Jacobs about the outlook for Qualcomm’s intellectual property revenues in the face of lean prospects for its next-generation of CDMA called Ultra Mobile Broadband (UMB). Verizon has decided to migrate from Qualcomm’s EV-DO technology to Long Term Evolution (LTE) rather than UMB. If other big carriers follow suit as expected, developers will have a more consistent GSM-like worldwide cellular environment, but Qualcomm could have a smaller royalty base.

Jacobs said Qualcomm has a lot of patents that read on LTE technology. He said he has not worked out all the numbers yet, but expects no steep falloff in IP revenues in the LTE era.

He added that one major customer has already signed an IP license that covers the LTE timeframe. He also noted that UMBs a couple goodies not in LTE. UMB has superior support for minimizing multipath interference problems in the ad hoc placement of picocells. Jacobs said he is a big believer in picocells in the 4G timeframe and LTE will not be an optimal solution for them.

I wished I would have seen yesterday’s article about a judge lambasting Qualcomm’s IP attorneys. That would have provided for a couple more interesting wrinkles for our conversation.

Instead, I finished my latte and headed back out to the CES show floor, hoping for other great chance encounters.

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