Irwin Jacobs and Andrew Viterbi with IEEE plaque
Irwin Jacobs (left) and Andrew Viterbi with the new IEEE Milestone plaque. Photo by Chris Jennewein

Twenty-eight years ago to the day when Qualcomm‘s CDMA wireless technology was first demonstrated, the San Diego company and its founders received a milestone award from the nation’s top electronics association.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers‘ Milestone Award, which has recognized such world-changing innovations as the transistor, the laser and the Internet, on Tuesday was presented to Qualcomm and its founders for their breakthrough Code Division Multiple Access, or CDMA, technology for encoding wireless transmission.

The IEEE Milestone Award “recognizes the seminal importance of CDMA,” said James Thompson, Qualcomm’s chief technology officer, during a ceremony outside the company’s headquarters in Sorrento Valley.

It is the 184th award in the IEEE’s history of over a century and the first for an innovation in San Diego.

“An IEEE Milestone is really a big deal,” Thompson said, since it puts company founders Irwin Jacobs and Andrew Viterbi in the same rank as Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. “It’s really quite an honor for Qualcomm and certainly the founders of Qualcomm to see this happen.”

A plaque recognizing the milestone was unveiled by a drone, which pulled a covering cloth skyward. Other plaques around the world recognize the first telephone transmission in 1876, the first transatlantic radio signal in 1901, the first general purpose computer in 1946, and the first integrated circuit in 1958, among other technological firsts.

“The IEEE Milestones program honors significant technical achievements in all areas associated with IEEE,” said Karen Bartleson, IEEE President and CEO. “We congratulate Qualcomm for its work in CDMA which has helped transform the way that people communicate around the world.”

As if to underscore the innovation at Qualcomm, the award comes a day after the company received an unsolicited, $130 billion takeover bid from Broadcom, which said in making the offer, “we have great respect for the company founded 32 years ago by Irwin Jacobs, Andrew Viterbi and their colleagues, and the revolutionary technologies they developed.”

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.