Photo of Irwin M. Jacobs

Irwin M. Jacobs

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Communications

For his vision, innovation and leadership in the field of digital wireless communications over the past 25 years; and for his development of Code Division Multiple Access as a commercial technology adopted as a U.S. digital cellular standard providing increased capacity, quality and services and greatly enhancing the U.S. position in the international telecommunications marketplace.

It was July 1985, and seven communications and technology industry leaders had gathered in Irwin Jacobs’ den to plot out an ambitious mission. From that inconspicuous setting was born Qualcomm Inc., which soon became a world leader in mobile communications technology and one of the world’s most powerful companies.

Under the guidance of Jacobs, Qualcomm took a military technology – CDMA – and adapted it to the burgeoning commercial cellphone industry. The CDMA technology essentially allowed multiple conversations to share the same frequencies at the same time. In time, that technology would allow the industry to serve many more customers with fewer cellphone towers and represent a seismic shift for the communications industry.

Jacobs, a New York native, received a B.S. in electrical engineering from Cornell University in 1956, and later a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He taught at Cornell, and later at the University of California, San Diego, before entering the business world.

Jacobs retired from Qualcomm in 2012. He and his wife, Joan, have been generous with their fortune: the couple has donated millions of dollars to Cornell, the University of San Diego and numerous civic institutions such as San Diego’s library and the San Diego Symphony. So prolific has the couple’s support of numerous causes and institutions that the San Diego Union Tribune, in a 2015 profile, called them “world-class givers.’’

By Robert Warren