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INNOVATION: Wireless Tracking System Puts A ‘Tail’ on Your Straying Dog

QUALCOMM INC.

CEO: Paul Jacobs.

Revenue: $10.9 billion in fiscal 2010; $10.4 billion in fiscal 2009.

Net income: $3.25 billion in fiscal 2010; $1.6 billion in fiscal 2009.

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No. of local employees: 10,509.

Headquarters: Sorrento Mesa.

Year founded: 1985.

Stock symbol and exchange: QCOM on NASDAQ.

Company description: Primarily a maker of telecom chips and a licensor of telecom technology.

Key factors for success: Attraction of top-level engineering talent; major emphasis on research and development; continuous focus on innovation.

What makes the company innovative: A willingness to push into new markets and give new products a try.

Back in the 1980s, very early in its history, Qualcomm Inc. went to market with a system for truckers. It married GPS and wireless communications to let fleet owners monitor the location of their big-rigs on the North American highway system.

For 2011, Qualcomm is circling back to GPS and wireless, this time using the combination to track … dogs.

San Diego’s biggest corporation has set up a consumer-products subsidiary called Snaptracs Inc. to introduce a product called Tagg — The Pet Tracker. Snaptracs plans to bring the product to market in September.

The heart of the system is a wireless device that attaches to a dog or cat collar. To get the system working, an owner gets on the Internet and specifies a “geofence” — that is, the backyard or other space where that animal is supposed to stay.

If the dog wanders, the owner gets a heads-up via email or text message.

If an owner wants to know the whereabouts of the dog, he can find it on his mobile phone, tablet or computer. Pet owners who wonder where the heck their cat spends all of its time might find an answer to that mystery, too. Snaptracs recommends the 1.5-oz device for animals weighing at least 10 pounds.

Verizon Wireless will provide the network for the system. Snaptracs plans to sell the hardware with a year of monitoring for $200.

The $200 price point would probably not be a drawback to the clientele she serves, said Paige Simpson, marketing and event coordinator for Solana Beach-based retailer Muttropolis, which also has stores in downtown La Jolla and Newport Beach. However, Simpson said, there might be some worry about the dog losing the collar.

Qualcomm might also have to work harder to sell people with well-behaved pets. Carlsbad resident Barbara Morgan has five dogs. “They won’t run away,” she said, so she probably wouldn’t consider Tagg for them.

Tagg’s battery can go 30 days between charges, and the device is waterproof. A “trip button” lets owners take their pets outside the geofence without triggering a warning.

GPS technology has “made great strides” in outdoor use, observed Rory Moore, CEO of CommNexus, a San Diego-based association for the telecom industry. However, he said indoor environments are still a challenge for GPS, as are multistory buildings.

A Modest Move

A Qualcomm spokeswoman said the $11 billion corporation has invested “a modest amount” of resources in Snaptracs, declining to say how many employees or how much money it has put into the project.

The Snaptracs team is “acting very much like a startup within Qualcomm,” said David Vigil, an 18-year Qualcomm veteran who, as president of Snaptracs, pulled the whole effort together.

Snaptracs has no other projects, he said.

Qualcomm believes there is “tremendous pent-up demand” for the pet product, Vigil said. Some 45 million households in the United States have dogs. “We’ve evaluated different products in the marketplace,” Vigil said, “and haven’t seen any company build a purpose-built pet tracking device that responds to consumers’ input like we have.”

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