Patently Appealing

NextWave Wireless Inc. (Nasdaq: WAVE)'s $100 million buyout of IPWireless Inc. was pretty interesting, but maybe not for the obvious reasons.

Sure, IPWireless's wireless broadband technology has been getting some nice public safety and mobile TV contract wins and trials recently. At this point, however, major carriers like Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) have already tested the tech and decided not to use it. I suspect if it were going to be any more than a niche technology there would be more networks running IPWireless by now.

So why buy?

I think NextWave wanted the patent portfolio. Some forms of WiMax – along with some other wireless specifications – are implemented using Time Division Duplexing (TDD) techniques that are also at the heart of IPWireless's radio know-how. (See NextWave Buys IPWireless.)

TDD is basically a way of sending data up and downstream on one wireless channel. Current cellular systems use two channels. Existing mobile WiMax systems, such as WiBro in South Korea, use TDD, which – in theory at least – makes them much cheaper for carriers to deploy and run.

Its not clear yet how broad IPWireless's patent portfolio is and whether the company could feasibly lay claim to some of the radio voodoo behind WiMax. I wouldn't be at all surprised if that turned out be the case, however.

Certainly, NextWave wouldn't be the only company fattening its patent portfolio in preparation for WiMax and 4G. Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) has snatched up plenty of next-gen wireless related patents, most notably with its Flarion buyout. (See Moto Upgrades PMCL.)

Indeed, Back when the IPWireless sell-off was just a rumor, Qualcomm also was said to be interested in its intellectual property.(See 3GSM: The Vino & The Damage Done.)

All of which suggests a ton of 4G licensing fun still to come!

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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