Patent: Using Long Range Network Device To Create Short Range Network
As thrilled as we were to see an app that allowed the iPhone to share it’s 3G network with a laptop, Apple and AT&T weren’t crazy about the idea. Now, however, it looks like Apple may have an alternative solution in the works that may or may not involve the iPhone.
The US Patent and Trademark Office published a 36-page filing submitted by Apple titled “Personal area network systems and devices and methods for use thereof”. The document outlines a system to allow devices with only short-range network capabilities like Wi-Fi in notebooks or iPods to connect with long-range technology like the iPhone or other RF modules.
These specially made modules would be “constructed to be a high efficiency, low cost, devices” that would probably include no user interface, similar to their AirPort base stations. They would rely on either replaceable or chargeable power sources, including the possibility of kinetic energy converters, or external power supplies like from a car outlet or external battery pack.
The document goes on to explain that if a series of these modules were used, not only could they act as connectivity hubs, but they may even form a robust VoIP network. For example, an iPod or a car stereo could connect to AddressBook on a Mac or iPhone to make a telephone call.
While Apple doesn’t explicitly mention iPhone tethering as part of this category, the concept of using a long-range network device to provide internet connectivity to a short-range device sounds a lot like what people were doing when they tethered their iPhone using NetShare. If they actually intend to patent this process remains unknown, but it seems unlikely since the practice has existed long before the iPhone was released. If nothing else, the concept of creating your own VoIP network does sound interesting, particularly for the iPod touch.