Steven Morley, the former VP of Technology at Qualcomm, explained to a packed crowd at the Pacific Northwest Wireless Summit how he helped the global telecom giant went from a tiny startup to build San Diego into a high tech centre. For one, there was at the time an emerging and as of yet unappreciated future growth potential for the cellular industry. There was also a good mix of local and federal governmental regulation which lent to the formation of the wireless industry. But Qualcomm started with no outside money, no product, no patents and no real business ideas. But they did have a good mix of people who worked together well, and they had a proven track record in government digital wireless communications.
Qualcomm was also employee-owned, so the company was able to take ideas and turn them into a practical product. The breakthrough product was their spread spectrum satellite network, called Omnitrax, but when they tried to build out a new digital wireless network, they didn’t see much interest. Most importantly, Qualcomm owned all of the CDMA network, which turned out to be a big advantage.
In the early 90’s Qualcomm also benefited from the pullback in military spending in San Diego (traditionally a defense industry hub) to create a core of smart engineering talent. Qualcomm’s growth created new infrastructure around the company which built up San Diego. Morley said that while Vancouver is 10 to 15 years behind where San Diego currently sits as a tech hub, it is entirely possible to push Vancouver forward. “You just have to want it,” Morley said.