15 October, 2014 - 10:37 By Tony Quested

Cambridge building IoT supercluster

Qualcomm is planning to create a centre of excellence for the Internet of Things and technologies of the future in Cambridge UK following its $2.5 billion acquisition of CSR.

A source close to the American company said Qualcomm had sensed an opportunity to build on CSR’s strengths in IoT, wearables, audio and in-car infotainment.

The companies have been collaborating in recent years and Qualcomm sees the chance to really start building on its 10-year love affair with the Cambridge tech community.

The source spoke of genuine synergies between members of the respective management teams and the technology footprints of the businesses. The acquisition extends what has been described as a sincere and dynamic relationship between the companies.

“Qualcomm has genuine regard for the quality of CSR’s technologies and people and the plan is to invest in Cambridge as a centre of excellence and build on the success of both companies as well as globally leveraging the power of the Cambridge brand,” the source said.

Cambridge has stolen a march on most other regions of the world in fashioning an IoT ecosystem. ARM was already leading that march with hand-picked partners – now Huawei’s acquisition of Neul is being leveraged to create another IoT centre of excellence.

Three IoT centres of excellence in Cambridge, established by three world leaders in their field, is two too many: there is clear potential for a joining of forces to create a Cambridge IoT supercluster. 

I understand Huawei has already identified a Cambridge headquarters building for its own play but one hopes these influencers will get together sooner rather than later to maximise the power of the collective.

I can also reveal other developments which are rapidly allowing Cambridge to leave other UK and European innovation clusters in its wake – but creating attendant problems that could undermine the city’s growth potential.

Non disclosure agreements are thick on the ground in Cambridge at present but I can reveal that two iconic, household name global companies have signed up to move into Cambridge within the next few weeks. That’s in addition to Huawei pumping a downpayment of £200 million out of an earmarked £1.3bn UK spend into the new Cambridge HQ.

When the Silicon Valley tech greats and Chinese ICT giants make a move on a region a momentum builds that tends to gather an irresistible pace. But can we cope?

As AstraZeneca is finding as it tries to shoehorn 1500 incoming people into a region short of quality housing and crippled by transport issues, infrastructure constraints remain the only barrier to Cambridge crowning its ascendancy as the Silicon Valley of Europe.

Leading property agents are having to fight Cambridge’s cause in the face of a growing concern over housing provision and transport gridlock. One specialist told me: “The demand for Cambridge space from global companies is at its highest ever – but we need infrastructure improvements fast. Otherwise, when the next wave comes knocking on the door we will have to tell them, ‘sorry - no room at the inn,’ –  and that would be a pitiful waste of potential. if companies of this stature cannot be accommodated they will turn their gaze and their investment cash elsewhere.”

As more big name companies relocate to and scale up in Cambridge so there will also be added pressure in finding sufficient engineering talent - much of which may have to be imported - further adding to the infrastructure problems.

As Employment Minister Esther McVey revealed today, the East of England now has the highest employment rate of all UK regions with an extra 64,000 people in work compared to this time last year. Shame about the roads and housing.

With a General Election looming next May and the Government under threat on all sides, now might be a good time for Cambridge influencers to put a few Ministers’ feet to the blowtorch.

If we want inward investment someone has to ensure that incoming companies have ample options on premises and that their people have a choice of decent places to live. 

Perhaps we might cicrumnavigate the road problems by using the hi-tech highways advanced technology have created – working from home or from specially created hubs built alongside rail or bus terminals and in less built-up areas. Faster rural broadband would be critical.

If there is a shortage of science and technology property available or being built, then our universities and large companies might be able to free up available space at their sites that they cannot fill with their own people but could hire out to synergistic and non-competing peers.

And if we can’t build out, let’s build high – high-rise homes to include offices for home-workers; high-rise workplaces for single or multiple company occupation. The sky’s the limit – just look at the way London is evolving and how US and Asian cities have literally scaled up!

There are surely enough brains in Cambridge to get together and sort out the current infrastructure shambles before the momentum shifts backwards. It’s always preferable to talk about ‘What could be’ than ‘What might have been.’

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