Digitizing Communications:
From MIT to Qualcomm

Joel West

This book is being prepared for publication by a major university press. I have completed several chapters of the book, and have also produced a series of papers which are either published or under various stages of review.


Many people know Qualcomm, the inventor of CDMA mobile phone technology and one of the most significant new U.S. telecommunications firms of the 1980s. Fewer people know that Qualcomm was the second company founded by Irwin Jacobs and Andrew Viterbi, or that these two companies were among more than 200 wireless communications firms founded near San Diego from 1980-2005.

Drawing on a wide range of sources, we trace the origins and growth of this high-technology cluster, tied both to key technological developments in digital communications in the 1960s and 1970s and the creation of local institutions to attract and support innovation. The story begins with the communications developed by Claude Shannon at Bell Labs and then picked up by MIT. It then shows what Jacobs and Viterbi learn about applying Shannon’s theories to practical problems, particularly their successful efforts to apply coding theory to increase the range and reliability of NASA’s deep space communications.

We then examine Jacobs’ and Viterbi’s first company, Linkabit, including its unusual corporate culture and record of achievement. After its acquisition, Linkabit spawned more than 75 direct and indirect spinoffs that formed a high-technology cluster in San Diego.We trace the history and achievements of these spinoff companies, including Qualcomm.

The book concludes both with implications for our understanding of high-technology entrepreneurship, as well as the future of the regional telecommunications industry.

Draft Outline

    1. The Birth of Information Theory
    2. The Mother Church of Information Theory
    3. MIT Students to California Professors
    4. Coding Theory in Space
    5. Linkabit
    6. First Wave of Spinoffs
    7. Qualcomm and the CDMA Wars
    8. Telecom Boom and Bust
    9. Institution Building
    10. Role of Engineers in Entrepreneurship
    11. The Future

Joel West is Associate Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Lucas Graduate School of Business, San José State University. He holds a Ph.D. from the U.C. Irvine Graduate School of Management, and an S.B. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He his research focuses on entrepreneurial IT firm strategies, in computers, software and wireless communications.

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Last Updated February 8, 2009