TiECon 2014 Summary-Part 1: Qualcomm Keynote & IoT Track Overview


This is the first in a multi-part article series on TiECon 2014 – the two day annual conference of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE).  We summarize the Qualcomm keynote in this blog post and touch on the Internet of Things (IoT) track.  

With 4,200 attendees, this year’s TiECON was the largest of all time.  That’s a testimonial to the superb organization and planning, which produced excellent content on a variety of topics and subject areas that were of interest to technologists, entrepreneurs and private investors.  The top notch technical sessions included: keynotes, panel discussions, lightening rounds with start-ups, and break-through thinker presentations. 

This author has covered TiECon for the last several years along with TiE-Silicon Valley (SV) events of interest to IEEE ComSoc readers.   TiE-SV and IEEE ComSocSCV have had a strategic partnership since 2010.  In Sept 2013, they held a well attended joint workshop – Quantified Self: The next frontier in mobile self-tracking .

Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf’s Opening Keynote:

The opening TiECon keynote was a fireside chat with Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf, who was introduced by Anand Chandrasekher,  Sr. Vice President at the same company.  The conversation was moderated by Mohan Gyani -now a private investor, but previously President and CEO of AT&T Wireless Mobility Services.  The format was a Q &A type of “conversation.”

A 20 year Qualcomm veteran, Mr. Mollenkopf provides executive oversight to current and future technology development activities, further strengthening the company’s ability to successfully navigate an increasingly complex and competitive market for wireless infrastructure components and software.  He also serves as a member of Qualcomm’s executive committee, helping to drive Qualcomm’s overall global strategy. 

What is Qualcomm?  “We are a technology company company that invests in core technology that’s needed for big changes in the (IT) industry.  We try to be fairly flexible in the way in which we go to market, always through partners,” he said.   Technology licensing (#1) and chipsets (# 2) are the Qualcomm deliverables which generate revenues and profits for the company.

Here are a few of Mollenkopf important points, observations and opinions:

  • Scale is very important when pursuing innovation.  Qualcomm’s scale (of operations and R&D investment) enables the company to pursue new areas of opportunity that smaller companies couldn’t afford to undertake.
  • Corporate culture is the most strategic asset.  It gets you through periods of uncertainty.
  • Need to preserve a spirit of innovation which includes being nimble (i.e. quick to change direction/iterate) and learning from one’s mistakes.
  • Qualcomm tends to focus on a small number of eco-system customers, but the company has a large partner base.
  • Qualcomm likes to partner1 with other companies, because they can’t cover all aspects of the many technologies that are now coming together in the wireless/mobility marketplace.
  • Qualcomm wants technology to move forward, rather than stagnate.
  • Advice for entrepreneurs: embrace the uncertainty of not knowing what’s next; keep sights high; pay attention to new technologies; innovate; make changes along the way to be successful

1.  Post TiECON quote for clarification:  “We work in a particular space that requires a lot of focus, so we have a very concentrated customer base, but we have an enormous partner base. So our direct customers are really much smaller than a lot of other companies in terms of raw numbers, but we deal with a lot of ecosystem players and we try to be the behind-the-scenes partner for technology.”

Is technological change coming too fast?  “There’s a gap between what people envision and what they can deliver.  There is so much more we can do with (wireless) networks, e.g. a sea of sensors.”

How does the cloud effect Qualcomm?  “For quite some time, (desirable and effective) cloud based services have been needed to be successful in the smart phone business.  The portfolio of cloud services has driven smart phone growth.  Many mobile device components were needed for that: graphics, wireless connectivity/radios, CPU core, multi-media/video, etc.”

What about the future? “Wireless networks will need to be able to move huge amounts of data through networks and this will be a huge opportunity for Qualcomm.  We have to take advantage of that.”  

“Future cloud services will need more wireless bandwidth to and from mobile devices and connected sensors.  At the (wireless) network edge, a decision must be made as to how much data to send back to cloud servers,” Steve added.  Note that this needed intelligence for decision making at the network edge was touched upon in future sessions and is not trivial.

Mollenkopf positioned Qualcomm as a company that “provides technology for (partner) companies to succeed without making a large investment (in wireless infrastructure).  Qualcomm technology scales to a large number of developers.”  And that will produce a huge amount of wireless devices.  “We want to get services enabled on 200M (mobile) devices per quarter,” Steve added.   Summing up Mollenkopf said, “As technology gets integrated into mobile devices there will be more of a need for Qualcomm chip sets.”

Steve said that mid to lower tier smart phones will produce future growth for the smart phone market.  The high end is still growing, but it’s growth rate is not as high as it was. 

Note:  IDC forecasts that high end smartphone growth will be in single digits by 2017, while #1 maker Samsung has lowered its internal smart phone sales forecast for 2014.

Mollenkopf: “Qualcomm is getting the cost structure right for these lower priced smart phones2.  A lot of the Intellectual Property (IP) for high end smart phones trickles down to the mid and lower end.” 

 2.  Post TiECON quote for clarification:   “We’ve been actually very successful in driving mid-tier and low-tier. Part of our business strategy is to see the transition of 2G networks onto 3G and onto 4G. And part of that is getting the cost structure right. So we’ve been, I think, fairly successful in doing that. If you look at our numbers, I think we’re actually adding customers in that area, which is good. Now if you look at the growth of the high-end segments, relative to what it was let’s say a couple of years ago, the growth rate is not as high and it’s also – it is still growing. And technology tends to be very, very important.”


               Mohan Gyani in conversation with Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf at TiECON 2014

A huge gap exists between the amount of data people want to get on their mobile devices and what can be delivered (and stored) economically.  Lots of innovation in wireless networks and services will be needed to enable the network to get much of that data moved back and forth (between the network and the device).  Innovation at the business model level will also be important here, Steve said.  Pricing of services and data by network operators is such an example.

Steve stated that the Internet of Things (IoT) was an extension of Qualcomm’s existing business as it requires both mobile connectivity and wireless LANs (e.g. WiFi, Zigbee, etc).  Note that Qualcomm now owns Atheros Communications- a leading WiFi chip maker.

“Qualcomm is building a portfolio of products to enable the Internet of Everything (IoE),” Steve said.  “Scale is very important to deliver on the very large surface area that will exist for the IoE/IoT,” he added.

What about “wearables?”  “Health monitoring and wireless healthcare in general is a great, but different opportunity for Qualcomm.  What’s needed is for the health care industry to fully embrace innovation in the IT industry.  The supply chain for wearables is an opportunity.”

In closing, Mollenkopf said what every entrepreneur is told many times, “We need to make mistakes and (quickly) learn from failures.”

Internet of Things (IoT) Track Overview:

The major IoT trends and the disruptive opportunities which they may create were comprehensively covered during the no-nonsense, commercial free, IoT technical sessions on Friday, May 16th.  We attended the IoT track, because that area has tremendous potential for use of various communications technologies- both wireless and wireline.  It is likely to be adopted by many industry verticals (i.e. market segments).  The areas that will be most impacted by IoT include: startup innovation, consumer value and enjoyment, societal benefit, entrepreneurial companies, established device and network vendors, and network/cloud service providers.  

Note: Cisco and Qualcomm refer to IoT as the Internet of Everything or IoE.

McKinsey Global Institute’s Disruptive Technologies report calls out the Internet of Things (IoT) as a top disruptive technology trend that will have an impact of as much as $6 Trillion on the world economy by 2025 with 50 billion connected devices!   Many are predicting 20 or 25 billion connected devices by 2020. 

For sure, IoT will be a huge market, but not monolithic.  Each vertical industry will have its own opportunities and challenges.   Lack of industry standards, security (business), and privacy (consumer) are the biggest obstacles for IoT to overcome and be successful.  These issues must be resolved for IoT to reach it’s promise and potential.

At Cisco Live annual conference, CEO John Chambers said the Internet of Everything (IoE) has changed the way the world looks at data and technology.  “The simple concept, as you move forward with IoE, is that you have to get the right information at the right time to the right device to the right person to make the right decision. It sounds simple, but it is very, very difficult to do, and is almost impossible to do …….”

The IoT related sessions at TiECON 2014 included the following:

  • Road Through the Cloud to the Internet of Things 
  • Lightning Round I  (of start-up companies)
  • IoT Overview   
  • Infrastructure of IoT 
  • Connected Things 
  • Bridging the old with the new 
  • Proximity’s Role in the Internet of Everything
  • Lightning Round II   (of start-up companies)
  • IoT for the Masses 
  • Connected Health Comes Alive
  • IoT in Business 
  • The Future of IoT 
  • The Internet of Things: What Really Matters
  • Where are VCs Investing in IoT?   


More information on the TiECON 2014 IoT track is at:  http://tiecon.org/internet-of-things

Time and space constraints necessitates coverage of only a select few of the above IoT sessions.  We’ve picked the one’s that provided new, pertinent information on relevant technologies, markets and barriers to success.  They will be covered in part II, which will be posted in a few days.

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