Qualcomm has profited handsomely from the spread of CDMA and more recently from 3G wireless technologies. But as a new wireless broadband era dawns, San Diego company faces some challenges. For COO Dr. Sanjay Jha, the big opportunity is cloud clients or mobile devices that live and feed off wireless broadband connections. Read the interview for more details.

bio_sjha.jpgQualcomm’s Dr. Sanjay Jha , COO and president of its CDMA technologies division, is betting on mobile devices that are going to fill the gap between laptops and smart phones. Some call them cloud clients, some call them handhelds, while for others they’re ultra-portables.

Whatever the name, they are part of a new class of devices that represents technology’s next pot of gold. Intel is hoping to move into the ultra-mobile PC market with its Atom processor. Qualcomm isn’t going to make it easy for Intel, or so I gathered from a conversation with Dr. Jha at the CTIA show in Las Vegas. Here are the excerpts:

Me: What is the state of the 3G handset business? What are some of the trends you see right now?

Jha: This [3G] is a fairly robust business for us. Last year we shipped 176 million-odd handsets and devices and this year we’re projecting north of 270 million devices. So that’s very healthy growth in 3G for us. We see the growth in smart phones and we’re seeing a growth in services — messaging services — that the handset is not just about voice anymore, but also about email. That email is not just an enterprise play anymore; we’re seeing a lot of consumers who feel they need to be in email contact. We are in a space where computing and wireless mobility are converging.

Me: Beyond handsets, it seems Qualcomm is pretty high on Snapdragon. Can you tell us where you stand with Snapdragon?

Jha: We have a 1 GHz processor that runs at 500 mW. It is designed into 15 devices. Those devices are pocket-sized portable computers with 4-inch to 5-inch screens that will have a long battery life, broadband access and a fast processor that can surf the web and download attachments.

Me: When will these devices come out, and how does this compete with Intel’s Atom processors for ultra-mobile PCs?

Jha: Devices using Snapdragon will come out in the second half of this year, before or after Christmas. And I wouldn’t say we’re competing with Intel because we want to focus on a pocket-sized device that you can carry with you. Intel’s specifications for Atom are focused on a device with a 7-inch to 9-inch display.

Me: Isn’t this area similar to the Foleo product launched by Palm? Is the market ready for these devices?

Jha: I loved the Foleo. It had great software and was always connected, but it had a full keyboard. Our vision is similar, but our device is smaller. We think it still needs to be carried in your pocket. I think that device was closer to something like the Mac Air.

Me: What kind of software would run on the Snapdragon devices? BREW?

Jha: BREW is really for handsets. We see Windows Mobile or Linux as the software for this type of device. There are already so many types of programs already available on those platforms built for this category of products.

Me: Does this increased focus on the consumer and computing markets mean that Qualcomm could get back into being a device maker?

Jha: Well, never is strong word, but I don’t think we’d go down that path again.

Me: How do you know that Qualcomm is heading down the right path with regard to these ultra-mobile devices? What will be the signposts of success or failure that you will be looking for?

Jha: It’s easier to see when you’re successful, and I guess the trick is knowing when things aren’t going well. It may be easy to see after five years of things not going well, but I guess I will realize we’re not doing well if I’m doing the same thing I am doing now in five years.

Me: You’ve also mentioned the growth in wireless revenue coming from services. What role will Qualcomm play in the services side of the business?

Jha: We see mCommerce, where you can pay for things using your mobile phone; location-based services; and downloading content as being up-and-coming services. In the developed world, mCommerce may not be as big, but in the developing world, where everyone has a handset (and few credit cards), mCommerce is huge.

We will partner with providers, but want to provide an integrated platform on which to deliver those services. For example, with sending money over a mobile phone, security is huge. We want to make it possible to do that across carriers and across banks.

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  1. We also need a new OS to fit this new space. Retrofitting desktop Windows on to UMPCs was a misguided step (though understandbly, there is nothing else available) Ultramobiles need their own class of OSes that are lean and designed tightly around the unique features and constraints of it’s hardware class. Think Blackberry OSes.

  2. Stacey: I especially like Dr. Jha’s answer on how to judge performance over time. To paraphrase: “If I’m still doing in five years what I’m doing today, I’m a failure.” Kind of reminds me of that old job interview chestnut along the same lines. I always feel like leaving when I get asked that question, as if anyone can tell what tomorrow brings…

  3. He will really make money when we release the ZunePhone this summer!

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