I’ve been compiling a list of companies that produce products / services which I can’t live without (you can read here why that’s important: http://qr.ae/dmUby).
One of these companies is Qualcomm, the world’s largest smartphone semi-conductor.
But going through the 2014 annual report was not an easy read, causing intense confusion for a non-Electrical Engineering background reader like me within the first few paragraphs.
So here are my notes of what I learned about the encountered technology concepts I didn’t understand. The objective is to know enough about the concepts to understand the annual report, so any extreme technical specifics I will link to other websites to explain.
All the technology concepts you need to grasp before fully understanding the 2014 Qualcomm annual report is concentrated in “Item 1. Business”
“Item 1. Business” Technology Concepts
Understanding the following sentence makes the “Overview” of “Item 1. Business” much easier to understand:
“Based on wireless connections, CDMA and TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access), of which GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) is the primary commercial form, are the primary digital technologies currently used to transmit a wireless device user’s voice or data over radio waves using a public cellular wireless network. “
The key to understanding this sentence are the three terms I’ve highlighted, namely CDMA, TDMA and GSM.
In this sentence, Qualcomm is saying that the key technologies used for what we understand conventionally as our 2G and 3G capabilities for our smartphones are CDMA and TDMA.
For the remaining <10% market share, another technology that is used is CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access), which Qualcomm has “significant patents, patent applications and trade secrets” on. Qualcomm invented CDMA, so anyone who uses CDMA has to pay Qualcomm patent license.
The reason why CDMA and TDMA “are the primary digital technologies currently used to transmit a wireless device user’s voice or data over radio waves using a public cellular wireless network” is because despite advances in 3G and 4G technologies, most of the world is still using 2G technology: (Clicking the image will bring you to the source I borrowed the picture from)
So if Qualcomm literally owns CDMA technology, and it makes up <10% of 2G market share compared to GSM, doesn’t that make Qualcomm not great? Well fortunately for Qualcomm, the dominant standard for 3G technology is the UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System), which is based on the W-CDMA technology (another extension of CDMA technology). And as you can see from the graph above, many people are using 3G and the numbers will keep picking up.
Another key part of Qualcomm’s strength is in the following sentence:
We also continue our significant role in the development and commercialization of OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access) technology for which we own substantial intellectual property.
OFDMA is the technology used for LTE technology, which is always marketed as 4G LTE technology. Technically speaking 4G and LTE are not the same, as a smartphone that uses LTE technology just means it is significantly better than 3G technology but not quite up to 4G technology standards yet. What’s important to note is that Qualcomm is also the dominant player for LTE technology as well, with a whopping 94% market share in 2013 alone. (Clicking the image will bring you to the source I borrowed the picture from)
The rest of the “Overview” of “Item 1. Business” is straightforward, basically stating that Qualcomm also has products in the following areas:
- Audio / Video Codecs (“software that is used to compress or decompress a digital media file, such as a song or video” = without it, your computer / tablet / smartphone can’t play songs or videos)
- Advanced WLAN 802.11 functionality (a standard that determines how fast data should be transmitted for Wi-Fi)
- Volatile and Non-Volatile Controllers (different types of computer memory. Volatile memory that requires power to retain information (eg. RAM which loses all information when you shut down computer). Non-Volatile memory is the opposite (eg. Your hard-drive or USB stick).)
- Operating systems, user interfaces, graphics and camera processing functionality, integrated circuit packaging techniques, sensors and sensor fusion algorithms and application processor architectures
- Integrated Circuit Packaging is basically the final stage of making a semiconductor (semiconductors are the basis of the CPU (Central Processing Unit), while the CPU is “the brains of the computer where most calculations take place” = everything that runs on your computer are in essence calculations, so without the semiconductor, you wouldn’t)
- I presume Qualcomm means “Instruction Set Architecture” when it talks about “Application Processor Architectures”. Instruction Set Architecture is basically a language that only computer understands that provides commands to the CPU.
- Integrated circuits (also known as chips or chipsets) and system software used in mobile devices and in wireless networks.
- Integrated circuits are the chips that contain CPUs.
- Integrated circuits for use in wired devices, particularly broadband gateway equipment, desktop computers and streaming media players; software products and content enablement services for wireless operators; and products designed for the implementation of small cells.
[Disclaimer] Not advice. No offer. Do not rely. May lose value. Risky. Conflicts hidden/obscured. (Borrowed from Terrence Yang‘s Disclaimer on Quora)
If you find any of the technology concepts to be explained incorrectly, please feel free to point out so that I can rectify it. Thanks!