Edward G. Tiedemann, Jr.
Class of 1975, BS
In 1988, Ed Tiedemann seized a chance. He joined a fledgling communications technology company of about 160 people. “I took the risk because I knew the founders, Irwin and Andy, and it was a good time in my career to do something different … It turns out that I got involved at the right time. It was serendipity,” Tiedemann mused.
Today, Tiedemann serves as a Senior Vice President of Engineering, and leads the organization’s worldwide standardization activities. His name appears on some 200 patents. And the number 160 has changed to some 26,000.
Who were Irwin and Andy? They are Irwin Jacobs and Andrew Viterbi, the founders of Qualcomm that has matured today into a global semiconductor giant with 170+ worldwide locations. They founded the company three years before Tiedemann joined, and now Qualcomm boasts revenues of almost $25 billion annually.
When Tiedemann started at the company, he recalled how he “played” with new technology and new concepts. “In some sense, the creativity came because cellular communications technology was not well-explored in the 1990s into the early 2000s…. We were building real systems and delivering services such as vocoded voice and packet data, and there was a lot of room for innovation.”
Tinkering with technology is something Tiedemann started doing decades before when he was a young boy. He was active in science clubs, puttering with what he called “home-brew electronics.” In the 1960s, he was building gadgets, including a counter to measure the frequency of radio signals – advanced for the time as commercial ones cost thousands of dollars. He also participated in the Fort Hunt High School Math Club that won a division championship. “That year, it was the only team in the school that won a championship,” Tiedemann smiled. “As a result, they felt that they had to give us a high school letter.”
An only child, Tiedemann spent a lot of time with his grandfather, a founder of Berkebile Brothers of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. “My grandfather was a mining engineering graduate of Penn State, and he went into the contracting business, building many of the rest stops on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a few buildings at Penn State, and some power plants,” Tiedemann remembered, adding that he sometimes traveled with him to these various job sites.
Tiedemann’s mother, also a Penn State grad, worked in the journalism field in the New York City and Philadelphia areas, and his father taught history and English, mostly at junior colleges and preparatory schools. When Ed was seven years old, his father joined the faculty at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School at Fort Belvoir, and the family made their home in Alexandria.
The family’s move to Virginia accounts for Virginia Tech securing the future Qualcomm Fellow, a designation bestowed upon only a few of the company’s personnel, as an undergraduate. “My parents were conservative financially, and so I applied principally to state schools,” he explained. The in-state financial tuition of Virginia Tech was affordable, and, in 1971, he became a Hokie.
He continued to build things through college, especially as a member of the Virginia Tech Amateur Radio Association, and developed what would become long-term relations with electrical engineering faculty members Charles Bostian and Warren Stutzman. They are credited with starting Virginia Tech’s research in the satellite communications world that eventually led to Tech being internationally renowned in wireless communications.
Tiedemann was elected president of the student chapter of Eta Kappa Nu, the electrical engineering honorary society, and was a member of Tau Beta Pi and Phi Kappa Phi.
His grades came relatively easily for him, but he recalled that he was “always working hard.”
During his senior year, he took an electrical engineering communications course and started reading a book on communications theory by George Cooper, a Purdue University faculty member who is considered to be particularly prominent in applying spectrum technology to cell phones, many years before the first commercial cellular network which was based upon a much simpler, analog technology. With his academic curiosity aroused, Tiedemann moved on to Purdue in 1975 for a master’s degree. He secured a position working with Cooper where he concentrated on bandwidth efficient modulation. He also taught the communications laboratory course. As an extra project, he developed equipment used to teach analog communications, which remained in use for about three decades.
When he obtained his second degree in 1977, the prestigious Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hired him. At the federally funded facility that applies advanced technology to problems of national security, Tiedemann “saw the breadth of work” yet to be achieved in the communications technology field. So after three years he decided to combine his work with obtaining a doctorate, working on queuing theory and communications networks. It took him almost seven years to obtain his final sheepskin. Lincoln Lab is credited with developing multiple technologies such as extremely high-frequency communication satellite packages, infrared airborne radar, digital and packet speech technology, and advanced radar systems.
When Tiedemann traded in his job at the prestigious facility of several thousand researchers for an unknown future at Qualcomm in 1988, only a handful of Ph.D.s were part of the team. “I never knew where the job might go but I had read Andy Viterbi’s book, Principles of Coherent Communication, when I was at Virginia Tech,” Tiedemann said. Viterbi was a two-time MIT graduate with a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California. “I was foot loose without a lot of economic demands, and I never regretted taking this chance. It has been a lot of fun,” Tiedemann said. “I love engineering as a profession in the sense that one is always playing with new concepts and technology. There is great reward in doing this work … We were building real-world systems.”
For example, the passionate inventor was instrumental in the design and development of the cellular CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) system called cdmaOne™. CDMA allows multiple users on the same communication channel, separating them by different spreading codes. Tiedemann also led QUALCOMM’s and much of the industry’s efforts in the design and development of the third-generation cdma2000® system. He was influential in getting QUALCOMM involved with Wideband CDMA and in embedded modules. Both cdma2000® and WCDMA are the standards used in third generation (3G) mobile telecommunications networks.
In 2008, Tiedemann received the 3G-CDMA Industry Achievement Award for Industry Leadership from the CDMA Development Group for “his long-running contribution to CDMA development and standardization.”
Tiedemann has moved into management, and has less time to put his ingenious talents to use except in a supervisory way. But he is recently served on one of the first panels to discuss 5G, the next phase of mobile telecommunications standards. “We are still in the research phase and it is not clear what 5G will be. Today, a new “G” takes the industry billions of dollars to get to the marketplace, but as the largest chip manufacturer and a major supplier of basic communications technology, QUALCOMM will be a major player,” Tiedemann asserted.
Tiedemann remembers working on some enhancements for the first generation of cellular, based upon analog communications. He has worked on every “G” since then, helping to take the cellular industry to over six billion subscribers. There are still many challenges and enhancements to 3G and 4G, known to most as LTE.
As if cellular technology isn’t a big enough challenge, Tiedemann is also working on QUALCOMM’s role in the next generation of WiFi, wireless charging capabilities, and automobile communications, such as the European eCall system. He sits on the board of the Open Mobile Alliance, the wireless industry’s focal point for the development of mobile service enabler specifications helping to achieve seamless operations across international borders.
Despite the need to be a world traveler for his company, headquartered in San Diego, California, he maintains his primary residence in Concord, Massachusetts. When home, he tries to make the most of his time, staying involved in a number of activities, including Contra dancing, a style originating in New England. The centuries-old form of dancing matches well with Tiedemann’s love for the restoration of his 18th Century historic home, just down the street from the North Bridge and the British destination during the first battle of the American Revolutionary War.
He also serves on the Asian Export Art Visiting Committee of the Peabody Essex Museum, of Salem, Massachusetts. This museum is among the oldest archaeological and ethnographic museums in the world, maintaining one of the finest collections of human cultural history found anywhere. Known for its Chinese collections, the Asian Export Art reflects the interaction between artistic and cultural traditions of the East and the West.
At Virginia Tech, Tiedemann spent four years on the College of Engineering Advisory Board, serving as its chair in 2004-06, when the College of Engineering led the creation of the Virginia Tech Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science. He is also a past member of the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Advisory Board at Virginia Tech, and is a current member of Purdue University’s ECE Advisory Board. In 2010, he received Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering Distinguished Service Award, and at Purdue he received its Distinguished Engineering Alumnus award and its Outstanding ECE award. In 2009, he received the Global IT Innovator and Leadership Award from Yonsei University in Korea. He is the general chair of GLOBECOM 2015, an Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers’ flagship conference.
Class of: 1975
Year Inducted into Academy: 2014