Summary:

Steve Altman built Qualcomm’s mammoth mobile technology licensing operation. Now he’s helping little-known startup MagnaCom convince the telecom industry to rethink one of underlying technologies of communications networks.

Steve Altman, Qualcomm

It’s safe to say Steve Altman knows valuable technology when he sees it. When he joined Qualcomm in 1989, he was tasked with building an intellectual property licensing business around a new mobile networking technology called CDMA. Today CDMA forms the basis of all 3G networks, and a portion of the purchase price of most 3G and 4G phones go directly into Qualcomm’s coffers as licensing fees.

Altman, who recently retired as Qualcomm’s vice chairman, is turning his attention to another company that claims to have a very disruptive technology. On Thursday, MagnaCom, a Southern California startup just emerging from stealth mode, announced that Altman is joining its advisory board and has taken a “meaningful” stake in the company.

MagnaCom isn’t your typical networking startup. It’s not designing a faster LTE chip, or creating a better way to compress video over copper links. Instead, it’s challenging one of the fundamental technologies of communications: Quadrature Amplitude Modulation. QAM is the modulation method underlying everything from mobile and wireline broadband, Wi-Fi and even optical and satellite systems.

MagnaCom WAM diagram

MagnaCom’s founders Yossi Cohen and Amir Eliaz, both telecom industry veterans, believe QAM has seen its best days. They’re proposing an alternate scheme called Wave Modulation, or WAM, which could potentially boost transmission speeds and reduce the power required to send data over any communications link.

That’s a pretty audacious goal, and if MagnaCom is going to be successful it will be through licensing its technology to a very standards-driven telecom industry. Altman has proven he has a knack for that kind of thing. And it MagnaCom is really going to upset the established order of things, then it helps to have one of the guys who established that order on your side.

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