Del Mar resident among five named ‘Distinguished Alumni’ by Caltech

Charles E. Wheatley III

Del Mar resident Charles E. Wheatley III was one of five graduates recently recognized by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) with the Distinguished Alumni Award.

Since its inception in 1966, the award has been granted to outstanding alumni in the sciences, engineering, business, and the arts for a particular achievement or series of achievements.

Wheatley (BS ’56) was recognized for his work with spread spectrum systems and his contributions to the design and development of CDMA cellular systems supporting high-speed data transfer and GPS systems.

Presently he is Senior Vice President of Technology at QUALCOMM, Inc., where he has worked with DS as applied to cellular/personal communications. He joined QUALCOMM in 1987, and there, with two technicians, he designed and hand-built the first proof-of-concept CDMA radios. Wheatley later contributed to the successful deployment of CDMA in the United States, China, and India. Initially called cdma2000, it has been continually enhanced and is now recognized as 3G, 4G, or LTE. It supports high-speed data, GPS navigation, and a voice capacity more than 100 times that of the 1980s AMPS radio.

“I always liked puzzles and still treat technical problems as puzzles. Caltech taught me basic tools to solve fundamental problems, and to not give up when they became difficult. If you give up, you’re guaranteed to fail.”

During his first 35 years of employment, he worked on a variety of military surveillance, communications, and navigation systems, including the U.S. combat net radio (SINCGARS), Milstar, and GPS—he was responsible for many of its early system designs—as well as the atomic frequency reference used in the GPS satellites. He is currently working on wireless charging for portable devices.

Wheatley earned an MS in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California in 1958 and his PhD in systems engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1972. He has published over a dozen articles and co-authored “On the Capacity of a Cellular CDMA System,” which won the 1991 Best Paper Award from the Vehicular Technology Society. He is an IEEE life fellow and a Qualcomm fellow, and he holds over 100 patents on systems and methods related to communications and navigation.

The awards will be presented at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 19, in Beckman Auditorium on the Caltech campus. Late last year, CalTech was rated the world’s number one university in the 2011–2012 Times Higher Education global ranking of the top 200 universities.