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Qualcomm: Not Exactly An Overnight Success

After a decade, Qualcomm's wireless standard takes off

Qualcomm Inc. Chairman Irwin M. Jacobs jokes about it now. But at the time, the rocky debut of his pioneering wireless technology was anything but funny. He had cajoled 300 industry leaders into showing up at his tiny San Diego company while outside, workers were loading a 30-pound, PC-like gizmo with a phone receiver dangling off the side into a big white van.

As Jacobs wrapped up his talk on the wonders of his digital wireless technology, he saw a partner waving frantically. The message was unmistakable: Keep talking. So Jacobs did--for 25 minutes, while engineers worked furiously to get the massive phone hooked up. "We were sunk once we let people outside that room," recalls Jacobs.