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Qualcomm’s troubles will spark new wave of start-ups

When the giants of an industry start to rock on their pedestals, there is usually positive as well as negative fall-out. Nokia’s meltdown in the handset market led to large numbers of engineers and executive leaving, to breed a new wave of Finnish start-ups tapping into all those years of expertise. The same may be the case if Qualcomm’s problems continue.

Already, former chairman Paul Jacobs has established a start-up, XCOM, focused on the kind of 5G developments Qualcomm itself will be doing. His primary aim is to raise financing to acquire Qualcomm and take it private, but should he fail to do so, there is high interest in what XCOM might achieve in its own right, given its pedigree.

He has brought together several former colleagues including Derek Aberle, who was Qualcomm’s president until the end of last year, and Matt Grob, the EVP of technology who left in May. Like Qualcomm, the new entity will be based in San Diego and will develop wireless chip technologies for licensed and unlicensed spectrum. The company is hiring engineers with expertise in communications systems, embedded software and wireless testing.

In an interview with the San Diego Union Tribune, the executives said they would target 5G and IoT applications, and they particularly highlighted solutions which enable large amounts of compute processing power to be supported at device level, to reduce the volumes of data which need to be sent to the cloud (or even the edge cloud) to be processed.

Meanwhile, a group of former Qualcomm engineers has initiated a project called Skynet, under the auspices of the OpenSingularity Foundation, which claims to be developing the world’s first blockchain chip and a network of hyper-scalable blockchain IoT networks.

The project aims to enable a network of intelligent machines harnessing blockchain, IoT and artificial intelligence to create secure trusted networks of devices that can communicate with each other autonomously and on a massive scale. That, in turn, would enable a new generation of global machine-to-machine applications with inherent security, identity management and micro-payments.

The foundation approach is very different from Qualcomm’s norm, and so is the choice of an open chip architecture, RISC-V. The project says it will deliver a programmable FPGA (field programmable gate array) chip in December 2019 and the core system-on-chip (SoC) a year later. It would then target having “billions” of connected devices deployed by August 2022.

Srinivasa Rao Nagaram, previously director of engineering at Qualcomm and an initial developer of Snapdragon, has joined as director of engineering; while Venkat Tangirala, a 22-year Qualcomm veteran, is the start-up’s ecosystem director. At Qualcomm, he worked on the 5G modem pre-silicon project. Finally, Carl Shi, VP of engineering at Qualcomm, joined OpenSingularity’s board this month, and there are several other team members with Qualcomm backgrounds.

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