Cellular Telecommunications: An Industry Driven by Intellectual Property and Technical Standards

By Robert Burgelman, David Hoyt, Margaret LeBrecque, Amanda Silverman
2009 | Case No. SM177
By 2009, just 30 years after they had been commercially introduced cellular phones were used by billions of people worldwide. This note reviews the development of the cellular telecommunications industry, with particular emphasis on the role of intellectual property and technical standards. Throughout the industry’s history, companies owning intellectual property (IP) actively advocated for standards to be adopted that incorporated their IP. Once standards were adopted, companies with strong IP positions were positioned to reap substantial financial rewards. This has led to intense competition over the standards process. This note covers developments to 2009, including work on standards for fourth generation (4G) cellular systems. However, its primary focus is on the earlier struggles between TDMA and CDMA technologies, and the role of Qualcomm in influencing the standards-setting process.
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