Inseego reaping benefit of security concerns about Chinese rivals

MiFi (Inseego)
The MiFi 7000 is a premium device that offers faster CAT 9 LTE technology and dual-band Wi-Fi, so users can connect in 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz bands. (Inseego)

With increased efforts to keep Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE out of the U.S., Inseego, the company with the former Novatel Wireless-branded MiFi and other products, admits that it’s getting the benefit of increased attention.

Ironically, just last year there was an attempt to sell the MiFi division to a Chinese entity called TCL, but that was blocked by the Committee of Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which is made up of nine different government agencies. CFIUS reviews whether a transaction will result in a threat to U.S. security.

Since then, Inseego underwent a change in management and determined that selling the MiFi division, whose business has improved, was no longer a good idea. In fact, it’s now a big part of its IoT & Mobile Solutions business, which includes MiFi mobile hotspots, fixed wireless and industrial IoT modems.

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Last June, the San Diego company announced that former CEO Sue Swenson, head of FirstNet’s board and longtime industry veteran, was replaced by Dan Mondor, who did a 16+-year stint at Nortel Networks and was president and CEO of SpectraLink from 2015 to 2016. Philip Falcone, of LightSquared fame and head of Inseego’s largest shareholder H2C Holdings, was elected chairman of Inseego’s board around the same time.

Nowadays, Inseego prides itself on the business it has won for MiFi and the security that goes into it. With regard to some of the Chinese equipment vendors, Mondor said he thinks there are legitimate reasons to be concerned.

“I think concern is justified,” he told FierceWirelessTech. Importantly, software (as opposed to hardware, which is mostly manufactured overseas, including in China) is a key vulnerability point and “we’re pleased to say designed and developed in the U.S. in all of our mobile and IoT products.”

“We do have multiple layers of security built into our products” and that’s one of the reasons its products are in the finance and government/defense sectors, added Ashish Sharma, chief marketing officer and EVP of IoT & Mobile Solutions at Inseego. “We take this stuff really seriously.”

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Novatel Wireless introduced the first MiFi device in the United States more than 10 years ago and Verizon was the first to launch an LTE MiFi device in 2011. A MiFi taps into the cellular network and uses the connection to create a mini wireless broadband cloud or hotspot, which can then be shared with other mobile internet-enabled devices that are within range.

It’s worth noting that it uses cellular technology and licensed spectrum, which Sharma said offers a layer of security not found in Wi-Fi—which uses an unlicensed frequency.

MiFi is sold predominantly through carrier channels and then mostly to enterprises, which typically require higher-security functions and features. In the U.S., AT&T, Sprint, U.S. Cellular, Verizon and countless MVNOs carry or have carried the brand, including major Canadian operators Bell, Telus and Rogers.

All of which is to say, the concerns over Chinese vendors, which often come with cheaper products, means increased interest in home-grown products. “It’s helping us, definitely,” Mondor acknowledged. 

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Of course, MiFi is not Inseego’s only product. The company is also a player in IoT, and it announced a strategic collaboration with Qualcomm and Verizon on 5G New Radio for trials and widescale commercial rollout. It’s also a supplier of a home phone for Verizon, the T2000, which uses LTE instead of a wired connection.

“We don’t like to think ill of anyone else, but we are sort of cheering from the sidelines” because Inseego is in the right place at the right time, Mondor said.