Paul Jacobs: Transforming wireless technology

Berkeley Engineering 150

Paul Jacobs at the grand opening of Jacobs HallPaul Jacobs at the grand opening of Jacobs Hall. (Photo by Noah Berger)In 2005, mobile phones were mostly used for making calls; next-gen features like video streaming, location-based services and advanced graphics were just starting to be integrated into devices. That same year, Paul Jacobs (B.S.’84, M.S.’86, Ph.D.’89 EECS) first took the reins at Qualcomm, the semiconductor design company co-founded by his father, Irwin Jacobs. Anticipating the vast market potential for smaller, power-efficient chips, he successfully led Qualcomm in the development of key technologies that fueled wireless and mobile innovations. During his years running the company, Qualcomm became a powerhouse in the world of smartphone chips, besting industry giants like Intel.

In addition to being an astute executive, Jacobs is also an accomplished engineering innovator, with more than 80 patents granted or pending. In 2016, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for his leadership in the design, development and worldwide commercialization of wireless products and services.

Jacobs HallJacobs Hall (Photo by Tim Griffith)But his legacy extends well past his achievements as an engineer and business leader. A noted philanthropist, he has been major driver in making Berkeley Engineering a hub for design education. Jacobs Hall, headquarters of the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, was opened in 2015 and provides a space designed to mix students of different academic disciplines and levels of technical experience, with a range of opportunities for hands-on, collaborative learning.

Whatever the effort, Jacobs — Berkeley’s 2017 alumnus of the year — has always pushed the boundaries of what’s possible, challenging conventional thinking and practices. “Innovation comes from being open to diverse ideas,” he said. “The world changes, and you change.”