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From the Archives: San Diego’s ‘Telecom Valley’ in 1997

We look back to San Diego's big break into wireless innovations, beginning with Qualcomm in Sorrento Valley

By Sanna Boman Coates

San Diego tech giant Qualcomm has been in the news recently, after it received—and rejected—an unsolicited $130 billion buyout offer from competitor Broadcom.

But the big Q is no stranger to San Diego Magazine. In 1997, executive editor Virginia Butterfield took a deep dive into our “Telecom Valley,” documenting the booming industry. Wireless technology was a major innovation back then—the same year the Pathfinder mission landed a rover on Mars, and the Heaven’s Gate cult cast a pall over San Diego.

“Wireless is the way to go, and it’s a hot industry in Sorrento Valley,” Butterfield proclaimed. “With Qualcomm and 70 other cutting-edge companies, San Diego has become the wireless capital of the world.”

At the time, Qualcomm boasted 7,500 employees and made around 100 new hires every month. Its campus was growing at such a breakneck speed that Ron Magnaghi, a commercial real estate agent, said his company was running out of buildings in Sorrento Valley. “The same shortage is true of housing within a 10-mile radius of Qualcomm,” he said.

Twenty-one years later, Qualcomm now has over 33,500 employees—more than twice the capacity of Valley View Casino Center—and 185 offices worldwide, 40 of which are local. Qualcomm QA specialist Ryan Arnold can’t see the Morehouse Drive headquarters outgrowing its neighborhood today. “From what I’ve seen around the area, there are several new constructions going up, and older buildings are being refurbished,” he says, adding that a lot of the company’s growth is happening overseas.

Butterfield’s story also mentioned foreign corporations with a large San Diego presence, including Finnish tech company Nokia, which employed around 200 people locally and was on the forefront of cell phone innovation.

“One intriguing product: a digital phone with wildly individualized ringing tones that include Tarzan’s yell, a rock ’n’ roll riff, and a Finnish polka,” Butterfield wrote, adding for emphasis: “Imagine the audio mayhem caused by multiple phones going off at a concert.”

Ringing tones? Mayhem, indeed.

From the Archives: San Diego’s ‘Telecom Valley’ in 1997

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