Digitizing Communications:
From MIT to Qualcomm

Joel West and Caroline Simard

This book is being prepared for publication by a major university press. Our plan is to complete the manuscript in 2007, so that the book can be published in 2008.


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 Claude Shannon at Bell Labs and 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. Networks of Firm Formation
    11. Theoretical Implications
    12. The Future

About the Authors

Caroline Simard is a Research Associate at the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology. She holds a Ph.D. from Stanford’s Department of Communication, a Masters in Communication and Information Studies from Rutgers, and a B.A. from Université de Montréal .

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.

About the Website

As we finish the various chapters, we will be presenting additional pages with material excerpted from the manuscript. Please stay tuned.

Return to San Diego Wireless Valley home page

Last Updated January 10, 2007