Patent Tollbooth Before Wi-Fi-to-WAN Roaming

UPDATE: Technology that helps cell phone users roam between cellular and local wireless networks is a great idea, according to Robert Leon, CTO and co-founder of Calypso Wireless. It’s such a great idea that his company patented it.

Calypso announced Wednesday that it’s begun contacting all major wireless OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to notify them of the patent. The statement names Nokia , Ericsson and Motorola as companies that will find the patent has “major implications on the way OEM’s do business.”

In an urban setting, there are often overlapping areas of connectivity via different protocols, such as when a T-Mobile customer enters a cafe that has one of the company’s wireless hotspots . If a handset could automatically switch to the Wi-Fi network, when you enter the small footprint of the Wi-Fi, you use that and free up the spectrum,” Leon told “The smart handset can make the best use of the airwaves.”

Leon said that mobile carriers could save money by minimizing use of wide-area network spectrum, while gaining additional revenue by offering broadband services like videoconferencing within hotspots.

Calypso provides technology to handle such a switch. Its ASNAP (Automatic Switching of Network Access Points) lets a device automatically switch protocols without dropping the connection. Leon, who invented the technology, said he wrote the patent to cover switching between any protocols. When mobile operators began planning their upgrades to faster 3G networks, Leon said, the company realized there would be a spectrum crunch, and that the best way to limit it would be to offload users to short-range connections.

“Now that Wi-Fi has been out there a while, people have thought about it,” Leon said. “But at the time we filed the patent, no one had.”

Calypso filed the patent in March 2000, and received U.S. Patent No. 6,680,923, “Communication System and Method,” on January 20, 2004.

Calypso chairman Carlos Mendoza said the company is in discussion with one of the top five mobile network operators.

“For any mobile device, cellular phone, PDA or laptop that’s able to roam between any current or future mobile network and Wi-Fi or Bluetooth or any other wireless LAN network, they will have to pay a licensing fee to us,” Mendoza said.

In the short term, the patent might not be good for much, according to Dave Mock, co-author of Tapping into Wireless. Wi-Fi connections drain batteries fast, and, while some manufacturers are putting Wi-Fi into phones, he said, “The market needs some maturity there.” Neither has the market for mobile broadband services taken off.

At the same time, Mock said, some manufacturers are testing strategies for protocol roaming. For example, Birdstep Technology claims its Mobile IP Client lets users and applications “seamlessly connect and re-connect across different types of infrastructures without application downtime or user intervention.”

Haakon Bryhni, Birdstep CTO, said he’s aware of Calypso’s patent but the company’s attorneys haven’t found any infringing or problematic issues.

“Our technology is based on mobile IP, which was defined and standardized by the IETF in 1996 and had been known as a technology for years before that,” Bryhni told “Our technology was developed over the past eight years and is based on standardized and well-known protocols.” Birdstep has its own patents relating to roaming in and out of virtual private networks.

Mock said that most companies that are successful at licensing wireless IP offer a lot more than just a patent. Companies such as QUALCOMM, for example, “are licensing know-how and methods, they’re a value-add for the customers.”

In addition to IP licensing, Calypso makes Wi-Fi access points and is developing a videophone. The company announced its first major contract in February, a $500 million dollar deal with an unnamed Chinese telecommunications company for the videophones.

Mock said that, while he hadn’t reviewed the patent, it would feed into what he called “the runaway patent controversy. This company came up with a great method of doing something, but they’re actually saying, ‘Whatever method you do, it’s just the idea that we own.'” When OEMs consider the number of handsets they’ll manufacture in the future, Mock said, they might decide it’s cheaper to go to court.

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