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InterDigital: Building the Mirror World
Wireless and HEVC patent holder InterDigital is engaged in long term research into next-generation codecs driven by artificial intelligence, lightfield video distribution, digital humans, and 6G connectivity.

At the crossroads of data fusion, machine learning and multi-modal sensing, the group is developing technologies that sense the home and provide a platform for new in-home capabilities and services. 

"We combine off-the- shelf sensors with the newest unobtrusive and privacy-aware technologies like geo-phone or RADAR," said Depersin.

Video Codec Licensing 

The bulk of InterDigital's approximately $300 million annual revenues ($375 million in 2017, $280 million in 2018, generating around $70 million recurring revenue per quarter through 2019) comes from licencing wireless technologies to companies including Samsung and Apple. 

About $20 million currently comes from video, primarily legacy contracts acquired from Technicolor. Over the next five years this figure is estimated to rise to $150 million a year, largely from earnings related to licensing HEVC.

It will also own some of the IP involved in Versatile Video Coding, the successor to HEVC due to be ratified as a standard around September this year. VVC is built using some of the IP established in HEVC and on earlier MPEG codecs.

Technicolor was making about $400 million a year from membership of MPEG LA, a figure that nosedived when its membership of the patent pool expired in 2017 and which explains in part the division's divestment.

There's confidence that VVC will deliver a bitrate reduction over HEVC of between 35-45%. InterDigital demoed subjective comparisons of the two codecs again illustrating VVC's greater efficiency.

The fly in the ointment, though, is the licencing scheme for VVC. This will likely involve InterDigital, but it wasn't keen to elaborate. The licencing structure and costs are being worked on by cross industry group MC-IF.

"The problem with HEVC is the lack of transparency which made estimating the cost very hard," said Lionel Oisel, Director, Imaging Science Lab, InterDigital R&I. "If we want to make a success of VVC we need to find a solution to simplify the IP landscape."

He predicted that VVC adoption would be quicker than the typical 5-year penetration of new codecs, because there will be less requirement for hardware encoders with more of the processing run in the cloud. 

The next stage of video codec development could divert from traditional MPEG routes (which have tended to build on the work of H.264 to HEVC) and begin afresh using AI.

"We think that you could use AI to retain essentially the same schema as currently but using some AI modules," he said. "This would be quite conservative and be pushed by the more cost-conscious manufacturers. We also think that we could throw the existing schema away and start again using a compete end to end chain for AI—a neural network design."

InterDigital is working on both but it's not alone. London-based startup iSize Technologies launched an AI-powered encoding platform which it claims boosts bitrate savings by 70% over other solutions.  

Earlier this month the company launched a new transparency effort in which it made handset rate structure, portfolio data, and licensing principles readily accessible.

Among the details was a rate sheet for 3G, 4G, and 5G devices that shows an illustrative base per unit royalty of $1.15 for a $500 3G/4G smartphone that includes Wi-Fi and HEVC video technologies. Additional discounts are available based on volumes, agreement duration, payment timing, and structure, and other factors.

6G: The Future Starts Here

At Mobile World Congress next month, InterDigital will demonstrate a working 6G connection. "Right now, 5G platforms are delivering 100Mbps to the home. We will demonstrate a solution with a 100Gb connection," said Van de Wille. "The underlying architecture is designed to take up to a terabyte of wireless connectivity."

One 6G research project is to design and develop new signal processing techniques based on the concept of Holographic Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO), which enables unprecedented data rates up to Terabits per second. 

"Achieving the vision of fibre-like wireless data rates relies on efficiently harnessing the benefits of massive MIMO and millimetre wave frequencies," explained Dr. Mohammed El-Hajjar, a professor at the University of Southampton who is being funded by InterDigital to develop the tech. "A major challenge for achieving this vision is the design tradeoff of the underlying cost, complexity, and performance requirements of massive MIMO in future wireless communications."

Today's 5G New Radio (NR) networks have largely adopted Massive MIMO, a concept in which base stations are equipped with an array of antennas to simultaneously serve many terminals with the same time-frequency resource. 

Holographic MIMO, a dynamic beamforming technique, uses a software-defined antenna to help lower the costs, size, weight, and power requirements of wireless communications. Using ML tools enables support for Massive MIMO that is 10 times greater than what is available in 5G NR today.

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