Six wireless industry giants have formed an Open Patent Alliance (OPA) to foster the development and deployment of WiMAX worldwide. Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Systems, Clearwire, Intel, Samsung Electronics, and Sprint Nextel are working on a competitive and open intellectual-property rights model that will help WiMAX ecosystem participants obtain one-stop access to patent licenses at a predictable cost.
The goal is to stimulate innovation through broader choice and lower equipment and service costs, said Barry West, president of Sprint's Xohm business unit.
"We expect to unleash wireless innovation with this patent alliance," West said. "The open-licensing program will help prompt pervasive WiMAX technology. This speeds the day when consumers can enjoy the convenience of WiMAX mobile broadband services on new devices in new places, and experience all the open Internet has to offer."
The OPA will urge the inclusion of essential WiMAX patents in a "patent pool." An independent third party will evaluate the patents submitted to determine how essential they are to the WiMAX standard and WiMAX Forum profiles. The OPA intends to keep royalty rates low, which should translate into lower prices for consumers.
Another principal goal is to stimulate innovation through the establishment of a predictable and simple intellectual-property framework, said Sprint spokesperson John Polivka. "It will create a one-stop shop for WiMAX patents that facilitates the licensing of intellectual property," he said.
Intel envisions the OPA bringing "the openness of the Internet and computing industries to the wireless industry and WiMAX," said Intel Capital Vice President Sriram Viswanathan. "By facilitating an open IP-rights model, we expect the alliance to in turn create a more competitive, innovative and broader WiMAX industry that ultimately benefits the consumer with more choice for WiMAX technology and services."
To make this happen, Polivka observed, a large number of devices is key. "This creates a more open and transparent IP regime, and reduces some of the confusion and complexity out of the licensing programs which have been traditional in telecomm," he said.
"Sharing IP rights will increase not only the volume of devices, but also the range and types of devices -- beyond the traditional cell phone," Polivka said. "Essential IP is more broadly held in WiMAX than in the cellular industry, where fewer companies have tighter control. This makes it easy to deal with a number of parties."
The Next Step
The founding of OPA follows last month's announcement that Comcast, Intel Capital, Time Warner Cable, Google and Bright House Networks have agreed to provide $3.2 billion to support the joint WiMAX plans that Clearwire and Sprint announced last year. Earlier this month, Sprint and Clearwire told the Federal Communications Commission that agreements would "make the promise of an alternative broadband platform, or 'third pipe,' a near-term reality."
If the FCC gives the new deal a green light, the next step will be launching the nation's first commercial WiMAX network. Sprint said last month that Samsung Telecommunications America had made key improvements to the backhaul side of its network.
"It signifies another technical milestone and continued momentum for the Xohm WiMAX network in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area, where commercial WiMAX is expected to begin later this year," Polivka said.