When James Thompson joined Qualcomm 28 years ago, he worked as a staff engineer on 2G/3G mobile technologies where the killer app was voice.
But Qualcomm early on believed that someday data would become what everybody wanted in mobile communications. That vision partially came true with 4G networks, which brought music streaming, video, social media and popular apps such as Uber to smartphones.
Now new 5G networks have begun rolling out with the goal of taking wireless data beyond smartphones. 5G aims to create a fabric for connecting sensors, cars, security cameras and millions of other things wirelessly.
Now Qualcomm's chief technology officer, Thompson has been at the center of company's efforts to develop these 5G technologies.
At its core, 5G aims to deliver ultra-fast download speeds to mobile devices. It also strives to lower transmission lag times and reduce instances where the connection is lost.
The son of a finance professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Thompson literally grew up on campus. He earned a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering at the university with the idea of entering academia.
But he opted for the private sector in part because he felt "there is a lot more that you can do when you are working for a company, especially a company like Qualcomm, where you have all these smart academic people yet you have money to actually build products."
Thompson has overseen all engineering for Qualcomm's chip design division since 2004. He was promoted to chief technology officer of the company in 2017. He is a member of the advisory board of the University of Wisconsin College of Engineering and is also a member of the council of advisers for the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego.