In the early 1990s, while many researchers were racing to find a wireless technology that would overcome the many problems that plagued wireless data communication, WiLAN envisioned a world of high-speed wireless.
To make this vision a reality, WiLAN invented Wideband Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing, or W-OFDM, a modulation technique that is now the standard for broadband wireless applications.
Over A Decade of Advanced Wireless Products
In October 1993, WiLAN launched its first commercial product, the 902-20 wireless modem which delivered 20 Mb/s data throughput. In July 1994 WiLAN launched the Hopper DS, a 19 kb/s wireless modem with a range of 10 km. WiLAN followed with a series of wireless Ethernet Bridge products, under the names Hopper Plus and AWE, which entered the market from 1995 through 2002.
The Push to Commercialize W-OFDM
The capabilities of WiLAN’s early products and its W-OFDM technology did not go unnoticed. Members of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) pursued W-OFDM for their developing 802.11a standard and, in September 1999, the 802.11a standard, utilizing WiLAN’s W-OFDM technology, was approved. Later that month, Philips Semiconductors signed an agreement to license W-OFDM and to jointly develop W-OFDM based integrated circuits for 802.11a products.
With W-OFDM an industry-accepted technology, WiLAN pushed forward with activities to further its commercialization. In 2000 and 2001, the company successfully lobbied the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to certify W-OFDM for use in the unlicensed 2.4GHz band. In June 2001, the FCC authorized the sale of WiLAN’s BWS 300-24, a W-OFDM product that operated in the 2.4 GHz band. This laid the groundwork for a future multi-billion dollar market for Wi-Fi products and services based on the W-OFDM technology.
As WiLAN continued further research and product development, its W-OFDM technology was increasingly referenced in technical publications and standards, and adopted as the method of choice to drive future Wi-Fi standards. The IEEE selected W-OFDM as the basis for its 802.11g and 802.11n standards. With these standards came a wave of low cost, high-speed Wi-Fi products, all driven by W-OFDM.
The success of WiLAN's products was recognized. By the mid-2000s, 802.11 was widely adopted and wireless networks were ubiquitous: all based on WiLAN's patented technology. As a small, undercapitalized Canadian company, WiLAN was unable to commercialize its products fast enough to keep up with the rapidly expanding market. Despite having invested heavily to develop Wi-Fi based on W-OFDM, WiLAN was receiving no compensation from competitors who were utilizing this technology in new wireless products.
In 2006, under the leadership of new CEO Jim Skippen, WiLAN focused its business on protecting and monetizing patented inventions. For the next 10 years, WiLAN would establish licensing agreements with over 320 of the world's largest technology companies worth more than $900 million. During this time, WiLAN was transformed from a small, nearly bankrupt company to one of the world's top patent licensing companies with a market capitalization of over $400 million.