Patently Apple has recently discovered a document that confirms that Apple has in fact acquired a new paging reception related patent. The new technology could allow Apple to add premium upsell services for iOS devices in the future that will enable them to further challenge the likes of RIM who currently offers such services. Apple's newly acquired patent will allow Apple to push further into both the enterprise and medical complex spaces which will provide devices like the iPhone and iPad with yet greater value.
Apple Acquires a Paging Reception Patent
Patently Apple has discovered a USPTO document showing that Apple has acquired a patent titled "Methods and Apparatus for Paging Reception in Multimode Wireless Networks." The patent which was first made public last Thursday, April 28, 2011 may have been actually acquired by Apple back in November 2010. The patent was originally filed in late 2009 by its original owners.
Advanced Paging Services for the Enterprise
Apple's newly acquired patent presents a single broad vision for business while clarifying that the nature of this new technology will extend well beyond their single scenario. In one such business paradigm, appropriately enabled user-equipment could robustly receive cellular pages (receiving service notifications faster), efficiently monitor existing paging channels of multiple networks, and thereby increase the overall perceived quality of experience.
While legacy devices could only effectively receive pages from a single network at a time, devices implementing Apple's newly acquired invention could quickly straddle multiple-network operations. The forgoing approaches are markedly more efficient, and may also significantly improve power consumption by the mobile device, thereby extending battery life and hence user experience.
Such devices could be offered by the network operator or manufacturer as "upgraded" or "premium" devices for this reason, and may even command higher prices and/or subscription fees. Alternatively, they may be offered as an incentive by the network operator to its existing subscribers, such as in exchange for extending the term and/or services associated with their subscription.
An Apple iPad/iPhone Pager Service could be used in Medical Complexes
In the bigger picture, pagers are still in use today in places where mobile phones typically cannot reach users, and also in places where the operation of the radio transmitters contained in mobile phones is problematic or prohibited. One such type of location is a large hospital complex, where cellular coverage is often weak or nonexistent, where radio transmitters are thought to interfere with sensitive medical equipment and where there is a greater need of assurance for a timely delivery of a message. Apple's original iPad advertisement titled iPad: Year One, presented imagery relating to medical complexes. Their newly acquired patent will enable them to further assist those in the medical profession who require vital paging based messaging.
Today's Key Paging Problem: Incompatible Delivery Models
Wireless communication could be realized either in a circuit switched (CS) architecture, or in a packet switched (PS) architecture. Circuit switched networks utilize a continuous connection for user data exchanges. For example, a circuit switched cellular network connects one mobile device through the cellular network to another mobile device using a "fixed" connection. CS routed connections remain unchanged for the duration of the connection. In contrast, Packet switched networks do not have a "fixed" connection like CS connections. Instead, PS connections are routed flexibly on a network of elements; the underlying transport route is not pre-defined and may dynamically hop between network elements.
The differences in operation between circuit-switched and packet-switched delivery models are sometimes incompatible. However, for various reasons, interoperation between circuit switched and packet switched networks is desirable. For example, within cellular networks, early incarnations have been primarily circuit switched. However, with newer data technologies, cellular networks are migrating to packet switched network topologies. Moreover, even circuit-switched cellular networks may bridge to packet-switched networks via, e.g., gateways and other similar components.
Apple's Solution In-Part
Apple's newly acquired patent delves into the mess of interoperating among GSM, GPRS, EDGE (and later it discusses LTE-CDMA) networks in respect to how paging on a device like the iPhone is handled in various nodes and channels.
Apple's solution is covered in eight distinct parts covering improved apparatus and methods for paging in a wireless network. Perhaps the most important point amongst these eight, states that "services on a mobile device are prioritized and the priority structure is applied so as to permit paging messages issued over one network to be received regardless of potentially interfering activities or processes within the mobile device or a second network in communication with the mobile device."
One of the side benefits of paging mechanisms is that they allow a wireless device to free up radio resources to, amongst other things, minimize power consumption or direct resources to other tasks.
While the invention's exemplary embodiments are primarily discussed in the context of paging mechanisms of a GSM, GPRS/EDGE mixed cellular network, it is not limited to such. In fact, the various aspects of the invention are useful in any wireless network (whether cellular or otherwise) that could benefit from simultaneous operation of multiple paging mechanisms described in the patent including without limitation ad hoc networks and peer-to-peer wireless networks.
As a side note, we should appropriately point out that a newly published Apple patent introduced new peer-to-peer technology just last week. Whether Apple will incorporate that particular technology into their next-generation paging project remains to be seen.
Furthermore, according to Wikipedia, "Wireless ad hoc networks" don't rely on a preexisting infrastructure, such as routers in wired networks or access points in managed (infrastructure) wireless networks. Instead, each node participates in routing by forwarding data for other nodes, and so the determination of which nodes forward data is made dynamically based on the network connectivity. The earliest wireless ad hoc networks were the "packet radio" networks (PRNETs) from the 1970s, sponsored by DARPA after the ALOHAnet project."
And to that last point may we add that Apple has coincidentally trademarked the word "Aloha." In fact one of the key attributes associated with Apple's Aloha trademark covers messaging in International Class 009 quite extensively. Whether this trademark will ever be used in conjunction with a future product or service associated with Apple's latest paging project is unknown at this time. The trademark which is noted below was registered in China. The document notes that the trademark is valid until 2014 (not shown).
Key Patent Figures
Apple's patent FIG. 1 shown below is a graphical illustration of a GSM/GPRS network comprising a Mobile Switching Center (MSC), Serving GPRS Support Node (SGSN), and several base stations and mobile device.
The patent states that GPRS and GSM use the same radio access methods, based on Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) and TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) in combination. FDD operation provides each user a pair of up-link (UL) and down-link (DL) frequency bands. Within GSM/GPRS, the UL/DL frequency bands are specified by an ARFCN (Absolute Radio Frequency Channel Number) which designates a pair of physical radio carriers, one for the uplink signaling and one for the downlink signaling. Additionally, each of the UL/DL frequency bands is separated in time, for TDMA operation. TDMA systems divide the radio channel into time slots. Each user is assigned a time slot. This allows multiple users to share the same radio frequency channel.
In Apple's patent FIG. 2 shown above we see a graphical illustration of abbreviated portions of a GSM channel structure, including Paging Channels (PCH), in time alignment with a GPRS Packet Data Traffic Channel (PDTCH), useful with one embodiment of the present invention.
In a second aspect of the invention, the mobile device may prioritize different services, including GSM paging reception. So, for example, the user may have different packet switched services, each with different Quality of Service (QoS) requirements. Certain services could be delay-insensitive (or a background class, such as web browsing). Other applications may be delay-sensitive (e.g., streaming video or audio). Hence, in one such example implementation of the invention, web browsing may be given lower priority than collecting circuit switched GSM paging messages, whereas streaming video or audio may be given higher priority than collecting GSM pages.
Logical Flow Diagrams
Apple's patent FIG. 3 shown below represents a logical flow diagram showing one specific implementation of an improved method for enabling GSM paging channel notification reception by Class B mobile devices, while connected to a GPRS data channel.
Apple's patent FIG. 5 shown above is a logical flow diagram of one embodiment of the generalized process for monitoring multiple networks for paging notification.
Paging in Light of LTE-CDMA
One of the last points of interest noted in the patent is that future technologies like LTE-CDMA may actually blend multiple incompatible modes together. This could mean that Apple's future iPhone 6, for example, could use LTE and have a simpler means of executing paging reception in multimode wireless networks.
Yet in the bigger picture, the point is that they have the bridging technology today so that they could begin implementing it prior to the release of LTE based iPhones if they so desired. Getting ahead of the curve on this ability to deliver advanced paging services, at least to hospital complexes, could provide Apple's iOS devices with a key advantage over copycat devices. Better still, is that advanced paging services could provide doctors with better integrated solutions that could shave time in all of their crisis-centric communications.
For more information on Apple's newly acquired patent, see patent application number 20110096706 credited to inventors Venkatasubramanian Ramasamy, Giri Deivasigamani, Srinivasan Vasudevan and Mohit Narang.
At the end of the Day
At the end of the day we could say that it's a little too early to figure out exactly why Apple has acquired this patent and how they'll finally integrate it into future iOS devices. But in general we know that this technology could be integrated into iOS devices so that hospital doctors, surgeons and key staffers will be able to use future iOS devices for communications within the hospital without the use of 3 or 4G wireless networks which are known to interfere with hospital equipment.
Apple may be targeting this important sector that still relies on traditional pagers of yesteryear for critical communications. Technically that could also be extended to allowing families visiting an ailing family member in the hospital to communicate with each other in emergency situations without using cellular based communications.
Apple's patent emphasizes a single business scenario that squarely presents an upsell opportunity of positioning paging services as a "premium" service with wireless providers. This would definitely be a way that we could see Apple aggressively challenging RIM pagers and services. And, as noted by BusinessWeek back in 1997, pagers aren't just for paging anymore.
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