The Vault

InterDigital, James Nolan, EVP, Research & Development
Video / Jan 2014 / CES, next-generation

Rory Moore:Good afternoon, everyone. Here we are, at CES 2014. And we’re at the conference room at CES with InterDigital. They have come out here from Pennsylvania, but they also have facilities in San Diego, where we’re located - CommNexus - and we’re with Jim Nolan, Senior Vice President, InterDigital.


Though they’re not a household name, to the average person, in technology, their IP is everywhere, literally. In fact, about a year ago, they provided Intel with a significant patent portfolio in wireless, which is probably one of the reasons that Intel is now reenergized to enter the wireless space.


So, for the layman in the audience here, please tell us what InterDigital does.


James Nolan:Well, InterDigital has a legacy of creating the next-generation technology. So, if you look at InterDigital historically, we have been a digital wireless or digital mobile technology company from its inception.


So, we did 2G before there was a 2G, a 3G before a 3G, and then 4G, and now we look to do the next G; you have to develop the technology for that next generation.


So, we look at, what do we think the next-generation networks and devices will need, in terms of technology? And it tends to be the embedded technology that, as you said, most people don’t know of us. It doesn’t come to - you know, it’s not readily handy, or something that’s a branded type of technology.


But what InterDigital creates is the enabling technology that enables devices and networks to work.


Rory Moore:So, as the industry, especially wireless - video is overwhelming the network, and everyone wants a full 1080, they’re looking at 4k coming, et cetera, et cetera - what are you doing at InterDigital to enable that to occur?


James Nolan:Well, a couple of different things. And a lot of this, from the video perspective, is being run out of our San Diego office. Our neighbor’s CommNexus.


Rory Moore:That’s why I brought it up.


James Nolan:So, we look at it from two different perspectives. We look at it is that video is the main driver of the use of bandwidth. And we look at it is any way that you can save that bandwidth or, you know - both save bandwidth, in terms of saving cost and power reduction - the other is also user experience.


So, we look at it as, how can we optimize the user experience? So, we’ve done is we’ve created technologies that optimize the delivery of video, based on the context or how the user is using that device. So, we’ll actually adapt how much bandwidth is being used based on how close the device is to the user.


So, if the device is very close, it might be a hot HD. As I move it away, I can’t tell the difference, and it will actually reduce the bandwidth by half or more. And that actually reduces the traffic over the network, and it reduces the cost for the content delivery people through the CDN, and it also reduces the operator’s cost and bandwidth.


What we also do is we also provide Wi-Fi cellular handover technology. And what that does is that’s really the integration. People talk about HetNets; that’s really what enables devices to hand off seamlessly between networks, and to maintain the quality of service of largely the multimedia content, which is largely video.


So, our perspective is, any way we can save the bandwidth, and provide the best service to the user. That’s the way we look at it, as an underlying technology that we create.


Rory Moore:Is this silicon-agnostic?


James Nolan:Yes, it is. Great point. If you look at it historically, InterDigital had been a company that was more wireless and mobile to the device. These technologies from video and heterogeneous networks are both software-based, and they’re agnostic to the silicon.


They could target it on devices as part of clients - either as part of applications or as client devices that an operator or a handset OEM would load onto a device.


And from a network perspective, also, software would reside in a server, an operator’s network, or back in a content provider’s network.


Rory Moore:Let’s talk about some new sectors, beyond just mobile - which is obviously getting a lot of talk here. Let’s look at sectors that are growing like crazy.


The digital health area of the convention has never been bigger, growing almost exponentially, it looks like. I think it’s 1/3 of an entire floor now. You look at machine-to-machine, telematics. What areas are important for InterDigital NAT space?


James Nolan:Great, great point. From a machine-to-machine and really expanding out to an internet of things, a web of things - we really look at all of those applications - healthcare, telematics - as currently today are very siloed machine-to-machine implementations.


So, we are actually developing software platforms for the next-generation standards that actually create horizontal platforms that allow all the different verticals or these different applications to use a common software layer.


So, it’s a software layer that would sit in the cloud, or in a gateway, or on devices. And we’re developing that.


And we’re also working in a joint venture with Sony, where we’re developing that M2M technology collaboratively with them.


So, we see this as the next generation, where we really enable very low-cost machine-to-machine, internet of things, web of things, type of applications, where all of that software becomes simplified, and it just becomes web applications to end users. So, it’s much simpler for us to use those technologies.


Rory Moore:Going back to remote healthcare, wearables - you know, it’s one thing when your video is buffering, but if you’re sending an EKG or something that, you know, has to HIPAA-compliant, it has to be [5-9s], et cetera, et cetera - do you see that as occurring, that kind of reliability for remote healthcare on the network, what you’re building?


James Nolan:Well, yeah, I think that’s a great point. I think when you look at it, it really depends on the type of devices that are being used. So, there are certain devices for machine-to-machine that are best-effort internet-based, and there may be some delay in terms of how they’re used, and then there are certain applications in terms of healthcare where you really need to use wireless technology - in particular, cellular technology that can be more robust, and is not just simply best-effort.


I think that you can have more of a guarantee of service, of delivery, for different applications.


But, as you said, being wireless and mobile, even sometimes the best technology can’t be robust everywhere - or it may be more robust, but maybe not robust everywhere.


Rory Moore:So, if you look at another area, having to do with smart grid, energy, do you play in that area, as well?


James Nolan:Yeah, it’s the same for us. We look at it as a software-defined platform that we work on - a service delivery platform or an application-enabling platform - and it can support telematics, smart grid, lifestyle, and healthcare and fitness type of applications.


So, it’s essentially you would operate through at an SDK or an API level, at the web level, and then this would extract all of the different things that are in a network - security, authentication, data management - from the individual that was launching that service.


So, the person launching the service would just create a web-based application that connected through that, and it would extract all of those things that are done in a network, whether it was done through a cellular network, or whether it was done through ZigBee, or Z-Wave, or other technologies.


Rory Moore:Are you going to be involved with projects, much like Qualcomm does - they’ll create prototypes? They will not go into production, but they kind of seed the market, seed the industry with certain hardware prototypes. You do any of that?


James Nolan:Well, from a hardware prototype perspective, what we do is, we develop the technology through proof of concept on a hardware platform. But in most cases, what we’re developing is actually a software that runs on those platforms. So, for us, the hardware platform is a proof of concept, and that will deliver the software to customers.


And our customers, as you said earlier, it’s not as well-known, not a branded company. Our customers are customers that would integrate that software into other platforms.


So, for us, hardware platforms are proof of concept, get the customers up and running on that software very quickly, and we would help them migrate with services onto commercial platforms.


Rory Moore:Okay, last - give me an example of an InterDigital effort, technology that the average consumer touches every day.


James Nolan:Great question. One that we’ve done in our timeline, in terms of developing technology, is very long, but we developed software stacks for 3G and 3 1/2G solutions. So, InterDigital actually created software stacks that ran on a number of different companies’ chipsets.


So, there are a number of different, very popular handsets that ran InterDigital’s software, that actually ran the wireless modems.


So, those are technologies we developed, and we’re developing 3G and 3 1/2G technology. And that technology got embedded on chipsets and onto handsets - tens and hundreds of millions of chipsets and handsets. 


But you would never hear of InterDigital, but InterDigital has been in some of the most popular handsets that are out there, from our actual software running on those handsets.


Rory Moore:That’s terrific. Well, that’s some great color on InterDigital. And thank you for joining us, and thank you for serving on the CommNexus Board of Directors.


James Nolan:Thank you. It’s my pleasure. Thank you, Rory.