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Novatel Wireless fires opening patents salvo in battle for cellular hotspots

When we first wrote in any depth about WiFi, around 10 years ago, it was at first a novelty, then a badly written standard

By PETER WHITE

Published: 16 December, 2010

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When we first wrote in any depth about WiFi, around 10 years ago, it was at first a novelty, then a badly written standard. Later the standard caught up, borrowing WiMAX style QoS procedures and shifting to more, less congested channels in 5 GHz.

Over the years, whatever has been wrong with WiFi people have moved to fix it, and where once it was seen as a sticking plaster, it is now an entirely alternative wireless medicine, which cellular has had to accommodate.

Video has been a genuine sticking point, but cleverly written firmware and MIMO has got people around this issue, and today HD video can be reliably sent around a home using WiFi, or certainly around a room.

But as WiFi has found a place, firstly in handsets, and now as a kind of “lingua franca” for all wireless devices, especially tablets and netbooks operating in the world of cellular, it has become increasingly important.

Throughout the development of WiFi, it has been the irresistible simplicity of the business model that has attracted consumers to it, “my device can pick up the internet anywhere, for a flat rate,” which has made users, equipment and chip suppliers, passionate about it.

Now with the potential of it becoming a universal bridge, sitting on portable devices, between cellular, in particular LTE, and WiFi networks, a US company which has some genuine claim to have first developed this capability, Novatel Wireless, is trying to defend its position, filing a patent infringement legal action in the US.

The suits have been filed against US company Franklin Wireless as well as Chinese handset vendor ZTE and its US subsidiary.

Novatel claims that they have infringed on five of its patents related to its MiFi family of Intelligent Mobile Hotspots. The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.

Novatel insists that it invented the entire idea of MiFi, but with the exception of some core chip components, the US has never previously been in the lead in cellular development and in our view it’s unlikely that Novatel was the first to ever create a device of this type. It might have been, but in Korea and Japan, these types of services have almost certainly been around longer, for instance during the past three years, since December 2007, Taiwanese equipment designer Billion has been exporting very similar devices around the world, and Novatel only launched its design, as far as we can see from its website, in December 2008. Potentially the claim that Novatel Wireless invented the Intelligent Mobile Hotspot, and created a whole new product category, is somewhat disingenuous.

Peter Leparulo, Chairman and CEO of Novatel Wireless said as the suit was filed, “We're confident that we will continue to lead the market, but competitors need to rely on their own inventions rather than infringe on ours.”

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