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A Hollywood siren’s wireless revolution

Last weekend, I had a fine breakfast with Dr. Irwin Jacobs, chairman of Qualcomm, the company which probably stands to gain most from the imminent rise of 3G telephony, which enables video-conferencing and high-speed movie downloads.

india Updated: Nov 09, 2008 20:10 IST

Last weekend, I had a fine breakfast with Dr. Irwin Jacobs, chairman of Qualcomm, the company which probably stands to gain most from the imminent rise of 3G telephony, which enables video-conferencing and high-speed movie downloads.

I discovered from the soft-spoken Dr. Jacobs the power of tenacity. Qualcomm bet about two decades ago on code division multiple access (CDMA), the technology that rivals the GSM which took the early lead in mobile telephony. After two decades of slogging in research, Qualcomm's chipsets and patents are making it for 3G what Nokia has been to GSM handsets.

There is an enchanting tale behind the origins of CDMA, which involves transmitting data through different frequencies.

Believe it or not, the original idea of making information hop between radio frequencies belongs to Hedy Lamarr, a stunning Hollywood actress who worked with music composer George Antheil who specialised in harmonics to come up with a patent-winning concept.

Born on Nov 9, 1913 Lamarr (I write this on her birthday) was interested in military technology during her marriage in Austria to a Nazi-leaning arms merchant and helped the Allies during World War II with her idea. She said enemy jamming of radio-guided torpedoes could be countered by making the code hop across radio frequencies. This is somewhat like a commando reaching a destination by hopping between cars to confuse enemy ranks.

What does that tale mean for you? You can expect in about two years' time a handset on which you can watch movies, and it should cost you less than Rs. 5,000.