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WiMax competitor back on track

802.20 working group reformed

The process to standardise a rival to the broadband wireless WiMax technology is back on track although the delay and scandal around it could present a serious set back to the effort.

Yesterday, standards setting body the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) announced changes that would allow the 802.20 working group, suspended in June, to continue to develop the standard. The group will elect all new officers and resume working once a chair is approved, which IEEE hopes will happen by 12 November.

Participants in the group will also be required to disclose all of their affiliations, including any company that pays, employs or sponsors the member.

Some experts warn, however, that the changes could be coming too late. "Whatever the reality behind it, 802.20 is now so heavily associated with Qualcomm that it will not be perceived as an independent standard," said Caroline Gabriel, an analyst with Rethink Research.

The IEEE put the new measures in place in hopes of correcting the problems that lead to the suspension of the group in June. At the time, the standards body had received several complaints, including some that accused the independent analyst who served as chairman of 802.20 of being paid by Qualcomm, an accusation he later confirmed. In addition, the IEEE said the group's activities had become unusually contentious.

The 802.20 group began as an offshoot of 802.16, the standard that forms the basis of WiMax. The goal of the 802.16 effort initially was to build a fixed broadband wireless technology that would compete with DSL (digital subscriber line) and other wireline technologies.

As work progressed, however, 802.16 members decided that in the future, the standard should be capable of supporting mobile or portable access as well. But some of the members didn't want to have to build the mobility feature on top of a standard that was originally created for a fixed application. Consequently, they split off to create 802.20, a mobile broadband wireless standard that could be created from scratch and would be designed to support broadband wireless access for users moving at very high speeds, such as on a train.

While 802.16 emphasises throughput speeds, 802.20 emphasises supporting access at very fast user mobility.

Intel is a major backer of the 802.16 process and ArrayComm and Flarion have been heavily involved in the 802.20 process. Intel competitor Qualcomm acquired Flarion last year.

Qualcomm is best known for its development of CDMA (code division multiple access) and strict licensing policies.

The process of completing the 802.20 standard was already far behind its 802.16 competitor when the suspension occurred. The specification for the fixed version of 802.16 is finished with products currently shipping and the mobile version of 802.16 was ratified late last year.

The 802.20 standard will also have to compete with the developing mobiler standards, such as HSDPA (high speed downlink packet access).


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