The smartphones and mobile devices we rely on today represent the culmination of generations of innovative technology. So, how did we go from frequently dropped calls to 5G technology that places groundbreaking possibilities at our fingertips? How did we get GPS navigation, streaming video and music, and a portable photo studio in the palm of our hands? And how do they work?
You can find the answer to these questions, and more, in the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Museum’s exhibition, “Connectivity Changes Everything.” This interactive exhibition tells the story of wireless communication technology and was developed in partnership with NIHF sponsor, Qualcomm.
What Has Made Smartphone Technology Possible?
When you visit this exhibition, you’ll see that each new form of wireless technology builds upon the generational foundation that came before it — and there is no better example of this than Hedy Lamarr’s co-invention of a frequency-hopping technique that marked an important development in wireless communications.
NIHF Inductee Hedy Lamarr was best known as a celebrated actress during Hollywood’s Golden Age. However, her work with co-inventor and fellow NIHF Inductee, composer George Antheil, to create a frequency-hopping technique during World War II had a significantly larger impact on the world. Envisioned as a way for the U.S. Navy to control a guided torpedo and avoid enemy jamming by constantly changing radio frequencies, their idea would later be applied to the mobile technology for cellphones. Although initially denied credit for the invention because she was a woman, today Lamarr is acknowledged as a pioneer in the field of mobile communications.
Influenced by Lamarr’s innovations, NIHF Inductees Irwin Jacobs, and Andrew Viterbi, co-founders of Qualcomm, set out to improve wireless communications. As Jacobs said in 1985, "We are here because someday everyone will have their own phone number."
The Qualcomm team optimized the use of available bandwidth through their development of CDMA technology, which allowed multiple signals or conversations over a single transmission channel. By 1993, CDMA was accepted as an industry standard. This paved the way for vast improvements in the 2G wireless era and built the foundation for worldwide 3G networks.
In 1998, Qualcomm created a prototype that would later become the smartphone. To demonstrate to top phone makers that a combined device would be of great value, Qualcomm taped a phone to a PDA. The pdQ smartphone, produced in partnership with Palm, became the ﬁrst smartphone, featuring digital wireless connectivity, a touchscreen, “airplane mode” and an open operating system able to download and run apps.
But as you’ll see in our exhibition, Qualcomm didn’t stop there. They had a vision to create a more connected world.
How Have Data Rates Accelerated?
Patented technologies from Qualcomm led wireless networks to significantly expand their capacity. “Connectivity Changes Everything” highlights the evolution of 3G, 4G and 5G technologies, which have allowed us to progress from heavy, expensive and unreliable mobile phones to a dependable, affordable and accessible technology for both business and personal use.
Our exhibition will give you a greater appreciation for the technological innovations that power your smartphone. A Qualcomm electrical engineer who contributed to 3G and 4G technologies described the drive to innovate, explaining, “Here’s the kind of problem we had to solve. When the signal leaves the base station, it can undergo a loss of up to 130 decibels before it reaches your mobile phone... To put [that] loss into perspective, if you consider the transmitted signal power to be roughly the size of the Earth, then the received signal power would be equivalent to the size of a tiny bacteria. That’s a huge loss! A ton of engineering work is needed to make sure we can not only combat the effects of tremendous loss of power but also be able to operate at a really tiny time scale.”
These innovations built the foundation for transmitting data over the same wireless spectrum that carried voice calls and data, giving mobile devices the power to send and receive texts, emails and social media communication, and to stream music and video. With 5G, Qualcomm is making possible billions of secure and instantaneous connections.
What Can We Expect from the Future of Connectivity?
From the 1G “brick phone” to the data revolution, our exhibition shows you how Qualcomm is rapidly expanding its 4G and 5G technologies through innovations to increase connectivity for the world.
For each new generation of mobile devices and networks, it takes roughly a decade of research and development before collaboration among engineers and industries leads to a full-scale introduction of new standards.
As wireless data speeds progress to 5 Gbps and beyond, we can expect low latency and real-time interactivity, more consistent performance and a growing capacity for unlimited data. As you’ll see when you visit this exhibition, such advancements will continue to lead to more exciting possibilities, from augmented reality and connected cars to smart cities with enhanced public safety and security.
Learn More About Qualcomm’s Innovations
Qualcomm continues to invent breakthrough technologies that transform how the world connects and communicates. The company’s headquarters is located in San Diego, but you can find the story of wireless communication right here at the NIHF Museum.
Plan your visit to discover our exhibition and see what’s next for Qualcomm and 5G!