InterDigital’s new product strategy

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Two years ago, InterDigital was at Mobile World Congress showcasing a new business model, having failed to sell some of its huge portfolio of wireless patents, and decided to rebalance its revenue mix towards consultancy and commercial products. Its bid to harness its significant engineering and R&D resources to generate more products, rather than just licensing opportunities, has started to pay off now, with two spin-offs – XcellAir and Wot.io – featuring on the company’s stand in Barcelona, along with other inventions which could well make the same leap towards independence.

The heart of the company has always been the R&D effort, which centers on a Labs unit with about 200 engineers. Traditionally, the inventions were mainly harnessed for licensing revenues, which historically accounted for around 90% of the total, with the company creating 95% of its patents via inhouse developments. So it has always had the potential  to productize them, but this has been a “bumpy” business in the past, according to the company’s EVP of R&D, Jim Nolan. The goal, set in 2012, was to make product revenues more consistent, often through spin-offs or partnerships with firms with greater experience of bringing offerings to market.

That thought process means taking a technology emerging into the mainstream and looking at ways to commercialize it in future, far beyond one or two applications, “thus maximizing the reach of any inventions, both in patent licensing and partnership terms”. Much of the firm’s work relates to the evolution of the ‘network of networks’ in which there is seamless connectivity between huge numbers of different protocols, device types and spectrum bands, right out to the internet of things.

Four particular areas of interest chosen by Nolan’s organization were bandwidth management and smart access; dynamic spectrum management; M2M; and advanced video research. In all four, there should be near term opportunities to bring products to market, generally through alliances, but also a development path stretching well into the future.

XCellAir fits clearly into this framework, emerging from stealth mode this year with a cloud-based management and optimization platform that supports HetNet SON and has an evolution path towards dynamic bandwidth management and network-as-a-service. It is targeting cellcos and MVNOs, as well as ISPs and cablecos with WiFi assets.

Building on InterDigital projects in its four key areas, the platform will embrace many fashionable aspects of modern networks – NFV virtualization, orchestration for SDN, radio resource management, analytics and capacity management, all of which can be delivered from the cloud to enable new hosted services. Some of the elements, such as WiFi SON (self-optimizing networks) are homegrown, while others rely on partner, such as LTE SON (AirHop) and the actual access points (GoNet Systems, maker of high end WiFi APs based on MIMO and beamforming).

The new firm is headed up by Narayan Menon, formerly VP of R&D at InterDigital, and Amit Agarwal, formerly general manager at Radisys (which has also provided other executives including sales and marketing chief Todd Mersch).

The other spin-out is wot.io, which provides a data service exchange for smart cities, and was showing a transportation demonstration, in partnership with Stream Technologies’ IoT-X unified access connectivity platform.

Meanwhile, InterDigital itself also showed off its WiGig-based mesh backhaul solution, EdgeHaul; a software development platform compliant with the oneM2M standards; the Smart Access Manager application for dynamic policy-based WiFi network selection and analytics; and the Perceptual Pre-Processing system, which filters out parts of visual content that the human eye cannot see under certain viewing conditions to save bandwidth in HD video applications.

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Caroline has been analyzing and reporting in the hi-tech industries since 1986 and has a huge wealth of experience of technology trends and how they impact on business models. She started her career as a journalist, specializing in enterprise and carrier networks and in silicon technologies. She spent much of her journalistic career at VNU Business Publishing, then Europe’s largest producer of technology publications and information services . She was publishing director for the launch of VNU’s pan-European online content services, and then European editorial director. She then made the move from publishing into technology market analysis and consulting, and in 2002 co-founded Rethink Technology Research with Peter White. Rethink specializes in trends and business models for wireless, converged and quad play operators round the world and the technologies that support them. Caroline’s role is to head up the wireless side of the business, leading the creation of research, newsletters and consulting services focused on mobile platforms and operator models. In this role, she has become a highly recognized authority on 4G systems such as LTE and WiMAX, and a prolific speaker at industry events. Consulting and research clients come from major mobile operators, the wireless supply chain and financial institutions.