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Qualcomm's Steve Mollenkopf on China, Cars and Wearables

Qualcomm's incoming CEO sees further growth for the chipmaker.


Thanks to its early leadership in LTE, Qualcomm has pretty much had the high-end smartphone market to itself, at least for devices running on those high-speed networks.

One of the key questions, though, is whether Qualcomm can continue to get the lion’s share of flagship phones now that Intel, Broadcom, MediaTek and others all have LTE chips of their own. Not surprisingly, Qualcomm thinks it can, so long at it can continue to evolve its products to cover more features, faster networks and a more global footprint.

“We have been leaders in LTE,” said Mollenkopf, who is Qualcomm’s president and soon-to-be CEO. “We expect to be at the lead of LTE going forward.”

Also on Mollenkopf’s plate is trying to take the company’s phone and tablet prowess and expanding it to new devices, as well as trying to get more business inside China.

Mollenkopf’s main pitch is trying to convince Chinese phone makers that by standardizing on Qualcomm chips, they can create products that can compete globally. At the same time, Qualcomm has been trying to convince China’s mobile operators and others to license its technology for LTE.

“It’s a world standard,” Mollenkopf said. “We think we’ve provided a lot of innovation in that standard and we will be able to extend our business in that area.”

A huge chunk of Qualcomm’s business comes not from the chips it makes, but from licensing the company’s patents, which have been key to wireless standards for decades now.

Just how much LTE business this year Qualcomm can get licensing its technology in China is difficult to gauge, Mollenkopf said. “It’s in the plan, but it is not wildly aggressive in the plan,” he said. Qualcomm has also been trying to make the case to Chinese phone makers that by partnering it can help them expand beyond their borders.

Mollenkopf also discussed new markets beyond its core businesses in phones and tablets, including two areas that have been big themes at CES: The connected car and wearable devices.

“The car, to us, looks like it is just trying to grab every piece of the smartphone that it can,” Mollenkopf said. “The technologies you need to be successful there you already have to develop for the smartphone.”

As for wearables, Mollenkopf said he doubted that a company like Intel that has been weak in phones will be able to succeed in even smaller devices.

“I look at wearables the same way I look at tablets,” Mollenkopf said. “It is essentially an extension of smartphone technologies. It is going to be difficult to be successful in either of those markets without being successful in the phone.”

Mollenkopf will also be a speaker at our inaugural Code Conference, to be held May 27-29.

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