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Auto Makers Double Down on Wi-Fi

Many new features in cars start as expensive options for luxury editions and evolve into standard features for all models. This certainly has been true with Wi-Fi. According to Car and Driver magazine, “Wi-Fi access has become a major selling point for buyers, especially for those who feel cut off from the world without Internet access. In fact, having a Wi-Fi hot spot is typically an expectation when considering a new vehicle.”

From its start as a simple way for our passengers to surf the Internet and watch movies while we’re driving, Wi-Fi’s utility has increased significantly, in part due to new features available in Wi-Fi 6. This article will trace how Wi-Fi is being used in cars and its evolution from an expensive option to an essential feature.

Why Wi-Fi?

Most smartphones can serve as hotspots, and we all have smartphones, so why do cars need Wi-Fi? Several reasons.

Honda - As any parent can tell you, keeping everyone connected is a big part of modern family happiness. With our new...4G LTE Wi-Fi, the new Odyssey is all about keeping everyone connected and comfortable.”

First, Wi-Fi installed in your car doesn’t consume your phone’s battery nor your mobile data plan. Also, as we’ll discuss later, Wi-Fi installed in your car enables features that you can’t get with phone-based Wi-Fi. Moreover, it guarantees you autonomy and a secured and reliable connection all the time: there might be public hotspots, but you don’t need to depend on them anymore - plus, Wi-Fi connection in your own car is generally safer than a Starbucks Wi-Fi!

It Started with Entertainment

When Wi-Fi first appeared in cars, passenger entertainment was a huge driver and differentiator. For example, when Honda added Wi-Fi to its 2018 Odyssey minivan, it enabled streaming video to its ceiling-mounted rear entertainment system. Regarding its utility, a Honda executive commented, “As any parent can tell you, keeping everyone connected is a big part of modern family happiness. With our new...4G LTE Wi-Fi, the new Odyssey is all about keeping everyone connected and comfortable.”

This functionality and sentiment have been echoed by many other carmakers. Here’s a blurb from Jaguar's website. “Wi-Fi Hotspot is all about keeping you connected. It allows you and your passengers to connect to the internet via a powerful in-car 4G hotspot. This means that up to eight devices can be connected to keep in touch with work, life, and entertainment while on the move.” Cadillac's website prompts potential buyers to “take ownership to the next level. Cadillac Connected Services helps make ownership more enjoyable and simplifies your life while on the go.”

Mercedes Benz - “One of the greatest technological innovations to be added to Mercedes-Benz vehicles in recent years is the ability to connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot in your vehicle.

Mercedes Benz gushes, “One of the greatest technological innovations to be added to Mercedes-Benz vehicles in recent years is the ability to connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot in your vehicle. This has a couple of benefits. For one, you can avoid overage charges with your cellphone carrier, which can just be annoying. And two, it allows devices like tablets or laptops that may not have 4G capability to easily connect to the Internet with a connection that is secure and fast.”

BMW touts the productivity-related benefits of Wi-Fi, “WiFi in the car...could soon revolutionize our workplace. Collaborative tools enable location-independent cooperative work, easy communication, and secure exchange of documents. Provided one has a stable internet connection, work can be done at home, in the park, in the café or on the beach, as well as on the train or in the car...For new car buyers, WiFi is increasingly becoming a key factor when it comes to making a purchase decision, if not a basic requirement.”

Regarding FordPass Connect, Ford’s website explains, “Up to 10 devices can connect at once, and you can use FordPass to keep track of your Wi-Fi data usage. You can access the hotspot up to 50 feet outside the vehicle. Now you can stay connected, even as you roam the highways.”

Ford - “Now you can stay connected, even as you roam the highways.”

Going Beyond Entertainment and Connectivity

For perspective, understand that although Wi-Fi’s range has extended significantly over previous generations, it’s essentially a local technology. Within a car, Wi-Fi (and often Bluetooth) is used to allow dozens of sensors and other devices to communicate with each other and the car’s CPU. When data is interchanged with services outside the car, this can be done via Wi-Fi if the external service is local--like a car on a dealer’s lot--or via cellular if more remote. In this fashion, Wi-Fi and cellular work together to keep your car connected.

Figure 1. Internal connectivity use cases for the connected car (Image credit EDN).

This technology collaboration enables features like location sharing, driving history, and crash response. Tesla goes far beyond this with remote diagnostics and over-the-air (OTA) software updates that can eliminate repair trips to the dealership. As described on Tesla’s website, “If your car requires attention, Tesla mobile technicians can complete most repairs wherever you park. If they can’t fix your issue on the spot, they can often identify and pre-diagnose repairs for faster service when you arrive at a Tesla Service Center.”

Where is all this going? The website Electrek, which tracks the transition from gas-powered cars to electric, predicts that “in a not-so-distant self-driving future, I can see your Tesla sending you a message asking if you need your car for a certain window of time, and if you don’t, it will drive by itself to the service center to get an issue fixed.” As traditional carmakers computerize more and more functions within their vehicles and launch new electric vehicles, many are also offering OTA updates. You can learn which companies offer OTA updates and how they work In this article, also on electrek.

The Promise of Wi-Fi 6

Meanwhile continued R&D investments by Wi-Fi contributors deliver new features that will enable newer versions of Wi-Fi, like Wi-Fi 6, to more efficiently serve in automobile-related applications. As detailed in EDN, “Wi-Fi 6 is expected to become the de-facto wireless interface for fully-connected cars. The most significant improvement over its predecessor is increased spectral efficiency, delivering an up-to-fourfold increase in channel capacity. This will either allow it to serve more clients per access point or enable new high-bandwidth use cases, for example streaming ultra-high-resolution video. Wi-Fi 6’s flexibility makes it better adapted to serve clients using smaller chunks of data, without reserving unnecessary overhead.

These improvements are elaborated upon in NXP’s article, 6 Reasons Why Automotive OEMs Are Upgrading to Wi-Fi 6, which lists less congestion, longer range, lower power, faster speeds, upload performance, and consumer satisfaction as the six reasons.

Figure 2. As predicted by BMW, autonomous driving will only make integrated Wi-Fi even more important to the automobile (Image credit - BMW).

The benefits that Wi-Fi delivers will only increase as autonomous driving becomes a reality. As summarized by BMW, “Permanently integrated WiFi, in particular, illustrates a change that vehicles are currently undergoing. Whereas we are currently using cars purely for locomotion, in the future autonomous driving will open up new possibilities: From the mobile office and entertainment to simple connectivity – WiFi in the car is one of the first steps towards achieving these goals.”

BMW - “From the mobile office and entertainment to simple connectivity – WiFi in the car is one of the first steps towards achieving these goals.”

Clearly, automakers are all in when it comes to Wi-Fi. For you, as consumers, this means ever-increasing convenience and safety.

Funding Innovation

Wi-Fi innovations come from multiple companies that invest hundreds of millions annually in R&D. Some recoup their investment largely via product sales, while others are research organizations that fund R&D with royalties from the companies that manufacture and sell products that utilize their technologies. As a patent pool administrator, Sisvel helps form and manage patent pools that provide efficient access to the technologies created by their patent owners.

A patent pool allows, by signing a single contract, to deliver access to multiple patented technologies, reducing overall administrative and licensing costs and accelerating time to market. Royalties paid by these licensees enable additional R&D to ensure that Wi-Fi and other technologies continue to meet and anticipate the future needs of current and new users.

Think about this innovation cycle the next time your passengers surf the Internet or watch high-quality movies while you’re driving, or you get an email from your car telling you that your engine is overheating and needs checking. Without the advancements funded by royalties, none of this would be happening.
Head image credit IEEE SA


AV1 is a Copy Cat Codec

AOMedia asserts that AV1 is open source as if magically constructed without the use of existing patented technologies. A recent article in the Beamr blog contradicts this and shows how AV1 uses many of the same building blocks used by other codecs. Specifically, the Beamr article compared AVC, HEVC, AV1, EVC, and VVC, and made the following observations regarding the technologies incorporated in AV1 and the other codecs (emphasis supplied).

Hybrid block-based coding – “All these codecs use a hybrid block-based coding approach, meaning the encode is performed by splitting the frame into blocks, performing a prediction of the block pixels, obtaining a residual as the difference between the prediction and the actual values, applying a frequency transform to the residual obtaining coefficients which are then quantized, and finally entropy coding those coefficients along with additional data, such as Motion Vectors used for prediction, resulting in the bitstream.”

Partitioning – “We will begin with a look at the block or partitioning schemes supported. The MBs of AVC are always 16×16, CTUs in HEVC and EVC-Baseline are up to 64×64, While for EVC-Main, AV1 and VCC block sizes of up to 128×128 are supported. As block sizes grow larger, they enable efficient encoding of smooth textures in higher and higher resolutions.”

Prediction – “All video codecs from AVC onwards employ both INTRA prediction, where the prediction is performed using pixels already encoded and reconstructed in the current frame, and INTER prediction, using pixels from previously encoded and reconstructed frames…EVC-Baseline supports only 5 INTRA prediction modes, EVC- Main supports 33, HEVC defines 35 INTRA prediction modes, AV1 has 56 and VVC takes the cake with 65 angular predictions.”

Filtering – “In-loop filters have a crucial contribution to improving the perceptual quality of block-based codecs, by removing artifacts created in the separated processing and decisions applied to adjacent blocks… Wrapping up with AV1, a regular DB filter is used as well as a Constrained Directional Enhancement Filter (CDEF) which removes ringing and basis noise around sharp edges, and is the first usage of a directional filter for this purpose by a video codec. AV1 also uses a Loop Restoration filter, for which the filter coefficients are determined by the encoder and signaled to the decoder.”

Entropy coding – “The entropy coding stage varies somewhat among the codecs, partially due to the fact that the Context Adaptive Binary Arithmetic Coding (CABAC) has associated royalties… AV1 uses non-binary (multi-symbol) arithmetic coding – this means that the entropy coding must be performed in two sequential steps, which limits parallelization.”

In their launch materials, AOMedia stated that “AV1 is designed from the ground up, to create a high quality, royalty-free video codec.” Even a cursory examination of the key building blocks reveals that this isn’t the case, and in fact, AV1 relies on many patented technologies, including all those included in the Sisvel AV1 patent pool."


Ericsson joins Sisvel's DSL licensing program as a new patent owner

On March 2020, Ericsson joined Sisvel’s DSL licensing program, which covers patented technologies used in a wide range of communications devices and services, providing broadband access to data networks, such as the Internet.

Sisvel’s Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) licensing program includes now patents owned by Ericsson and Sisvel itself and aims at making both companies’ patent portfolios more easily accessible to the market.


Restoring Balance and Clarity in the Innovation Ecosystem

Today’s consumers enjoy an incredible range of products that deliver enhanced convenience, safety, entertainment, and many other benefits. Many of these products are built upon technologies developed by companies that don’t actually manufacture the products. While these manufacturers are quite happy to harvest the profits delivered by technology owned by others, they’re often reluctant to pay a fair share back to the companies that invented the technologies upon which they are based. This has caused a crisis that threatens to throttle the innovation that delivers the new products that consumers love to buy and own. Levelling the playing field to ensure that innovators get a fair reward for their investments in technological progress and implementers continue to convey the benefits of these innovations to society remains a critical goal.

Some of the recent legal developments and discussions surrounding this fundamental issue were tackled by the article, Restoring Balance and Clarity in the Innovation Ecosystem, which appeared in the September issue of The Licensing Journal. It’s authored by an all-star cast of intellectual property professionals, including Roberto Dini, Founder of Sisvel, Sir Robin Jacob, Sir Hugh Laddie Chair of Intellectual Property Law at UCL, Eeva K. Hakoranta, EVP, Chief Licensing Officer at InterDigital, Gustav Brismark Founder and CEO at Kazehara & Former Chief IP Offers at Ericsson, and Richard Vary, Partner at Bird&Bird. By way of background, the article was inspired by a webinar session of the same name produced in May 2021 for the LES International Annual Conference.

The article first puts in context the Anti-Suit Injunction (ASI) phenomenon by briefly reflecting on the history of SEP-based patent litigation, and thereafter addresses three topics: how to support the standards-based innovation ecosystem, factors to consider when setting FRAND rates, and the benefits of arbitration to resolve patent-related disputes.

The article will be highly useful to all IP professionals, particularly those charged with setting or enforcing IP-related policies.

From Preserving Sovereignty to Anti-Suit Injunctions

To set the stage, the authors review the case law surrounding the licensing of standard-essential patents (SEPs) like those involved in communications technologies like cellular and Wi-Fi where standards are necessary to ensure broad-based compatibility between systems and devices. Since many products are sold in multiple jurisdictions, the issue of setting a global royalty rate is paramount. In Unwired Planet v. Huawei, the UK Supreme Court found that a national judge could set a global royalty rate. However, the Court preserved the sovereignty of other jurisdictions by presenting the technology implementor with a choice; either accept the global rate or receive an injunction from selling products in the UK which was the country of the patent infringement lawsuit.

The author’s point out that this decision has been misconstrued by other courts, particularly those in China, which have proceeded to set a global rate in the absence of an underlying patent infringement lawsuit and with no measure to preserve the sovereignty of other jurisdictions. In fact, in multiple instances, Chinese courts have set global rates and issued anti-suit injunctions (ASIs) to stop lawsuits in other jurisdictions, which positions the ASI “as a defend the interests of their local industries.”

Supporting the Standards-Based Innovation Ecosystem

The authors posit that “the European Commission, competition authorities, SSOs and courts have a fundamental role to support the standards-based innovation ecosystems, avoiding market distortions.” A partial list of priorities include:

  • Recognizing that some countries, particularly China, have tilted the playing field to benefit their own industries, including by subsidizing industries so they can support lower pricing, and by rendering legal decisions that support their industries even if they contradict other decisions generally considered to be legally correct.
  • Recognizing that “unwilling” licensees that unnecessarily delay entering into a licensing agreement should be subject to additional damages beyond FRAND royalties.
  • Clarifying the duties owed by licensees to prevent hold-out behaviour and other market distortions by implementers who exploit this lack of clarity.
  • Considering ways to efficiently resolve the problem of “nonpayers,” because it is unfair and anti-competitive when some implementers pay, and others, either singly or through concerted practice, act as free riders.

The authors conclude this section by highlighting the importance of rewarding research that will deliver new and improved products stating that “Failing to recognize this essential driver of technological progress may discourage innovators from investing in new research. Alternatively, they may decide to avoid participation in the standardization process and revert to proprietary, closed solutions, or trade secrets.”

Factors to Consider When Setting a FRAND Royalty Rate

The authors next shifted their focus to factors to consider when setting a FRAND royalty rate, observing that standards must benefit innovators as well as implementors and consumers. To do so, “a FRAND royalty rate should reflect the value of patented functionalities included in any product; the higher the value generated, the higher the royalty rate” (emphasis supplied).

One particular focus was a call to reject “component-level licensing”, which bases the royalty calculation on the price of the component rather than the value the technology brings to the end product. Under this theory, car manufacturers have argued that royalties for cellular connectivity should be based upon the value of the mobile chip rather than the value that cellular technologies deliver to the end product. This, of course, ignores the fact that few, if any, consumers would buy an $80,000 car that lacked cellular capabilities.

Arbitration Solution

The last subject tackled in the article was a call to arbitration to resolve royalty disputes. Recognizing that royalty negotiations involve complex issues on both sides, the authors ask the question, “When the negotiation fails, is litigation the only tool available?” No, they conclude, finding arbitration faster, cheaper, and a more complete solution than expensive litigation in multiple jurisdictions.

To promote arbitration, the authors make several suggestions, including that standard-setting organizations should encourage arbitration among their members and that competition authorities should imply a fair obligation for “both patentees and implementers to arbitrate.” Finally, the authors call for national judges to advocate for arbitration, and find that “if a party refuses to enter arbitration, this should be considered evidence of being an unwilling licensee” addressed by injunction or additional damages.

Overall the article highlights the importance of delivering value back to innovators and stopping the “efficient infringement" which threatens to discourage investment in new research to deliver the next generation of products that consumers want and our economies need. To avoid this, authorities should provide a clear guidance in SEP licensing negotiations, dissuade parties from procedural litigation like ASIs, and foster arbitration.

For more insights, please have also a look to the following excerpts from the panel “Restoring Balance and Clarity in the Innovation Ecosystem” produced in May 2021 for the LES International Annual Conference.

Gustav Brismark – ROI to the Innovators is Essential
Roberto Dini – So-called Efficient Infringement Discourages Innovators
Eeva Hakoranta – We Can’t Afford Hold Out Behavior
Richard Vary – Licensing Rules Tailored for the Auto Industry will Destroy Other Successful Markets
Sir Robin Jacob – Arbitration is the Best Solution

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Innovation and technology are fundamental drivers of the world economy and intellectual property is a vital tool to protect and foster this ecosystem. By supporting innovation, we create incentives for R&D, providing firms with a new revenue stream for further economic development.

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