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17 February, 2011 - 14:41 By Tony Quested

Shades of Microsoft as Qualcomm creates hothouse


Qualcomm reveals its new strategy for Cambridge exclusively to Tony Quested. 

Qualcomm, a world leader in 3G and next-generation mobile technologies, is developing its Cambridge facility as a Research & Development flagship in a subtle but globally significant finesse of strategy.

As it bids to expand its cutting edge product portfolio, the California giant wants to forge closer research links with the University of Cambridge as well as developing partnerships with other regionally based technology leaders through its active involvement with Cambridge Wireless.

Following a strategic review aimed at leveraging fresh opportunities as a thought and product leader, Qualcomm’s Cambridge Science Park team joins other international research centres, including China and Korea, as part of the parent group’s global R & D effort and has been hand-picked to help steer the new paradigm in Europe.

After 25 years, Qualcomm has an outstanding track record in the sphere of innovation. More to the point, it is a restless disrupter of the wireless status quo.

Over time, Qualcomm is hopeful that the change in strategic emphasis will lead to growth in Cambridge.

The company already has links with a number of Cambridge companies, including superchip designer ARM Holdings; it has invested in tech tyros such as ip.access and Cambridge Temperature Concepts.

John Scott, who will help steer the Cambridge growth initiative, said that Qualcomm saw itself as a driver of continuous innovation.

He said: “We were looking for fresh opportunities and being in Cambridge there was a very attractive proposition to be pursued – working more closely with the university and the local hi-tech industry and taking advantage of the exceptional local talent pool.

“Our Cambridge R & D team will very much be seeking to drive our own projects, with opportunities to pursue genuine blue skies research. The agenda is very much influenced by what’s coming next in terms of new technologies in wireless and how we can put our own stamp on these opportunities.

“Continuously pushing at the boundaries is key for us. For instance, within our research group we are doing interesting work in augmented reality and other progressive areas of technology.

“It is fair to say that we have shifted the emphasis from development to forward-looking areas of research. We have widened our outlook. The sky is the limit as far as our Cambridge research effort is concerned.”

Peter Whale, director of product management for Qualcomm’s European subsidiary Xiam Technologies Ltd, and based in the same Cambridge office, added: “The decision to ramp up Qualcomm’s R & D effort in Cambridge is highly significant. Cambridge has all the critical success factors for Qualcomm of world-leading research, a highly innovative business culture and a track-record of engineering and market success in wireless – all this resonates deeply with Qualcomm’s own track record and values.”

More than that, it is a demonstration from Qualcomm that innovation – and innovators – can never stand still.

John Scott said: “Qualcomm makes a huge investment in R & D – approximately 20 per cent of annual revenue.”

But innovation isn’t just about raw R & D –  it is important that products meet user needs and desires, and user research plays a vital part in driving new technologies and solutions. And here Qualcomm’s Cambridge team has an important role in researching and testing ideas and concepts from a user perspective. What is the actual end-user experience of a product? How is the current technology performing? How can it be improved?

Qualcomm is adept in assessing end-user experience and harnessing that vital data in developing products that are easier, cheaper and more effective to operate than current market offerings.

As the pace of technology advances, an inevitable element of Qualcomm’s business involves crystal gazing – assessing products in the marketplace and in some instances second-guessing products that don’t yet exist.

Whether the issues of the day are social networking among teenagers or wellbeing for an ageing population, there is nothing more certain – Qualcomm will be setting the technology agenda, not piggy-backing it.

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