FEATURE: WiMAX can get IPR close to 4 percent

Ron Resnick, president and chairman of the WiMAX Forum, has a lot to be happy about as WiMAX enters 2007 with some significant momentum behind it. I recently spoke with Mr. Resnick about what's in store for the technology, including its possible inclusion in the IMT-2000 family of global standards and the work being done on global roaming. -Lynnette

WiMAX has some significant momentum behind it in 2007. Can you talk about your hopes for milestones in the coming year?

Resnick: One thing that is happening will be a great testimonial to the global acceptance of WiMAX. The jury is still out but we'll be getting an understanding of how WiMAX will be playing out in the ITU. There will be a meeting this month that runs for 10 day in Camaroon. The ITU's Working Party 8F will be talking about approving WiMAX as an IMT-2000 technology. I feel positive about this first session, and I'm encouraged by the response we're getting from countries all over the world… It's a big deal, and if WiMAX is approved as an IMT-2000 technology in Cameroon and in the next meeting this spring, it could officially become part of the IMT-2000 family of standards at the Wireless Radio Conference in the later part of 2007. What it really means is that the ITU sanctions a technology, and if it gives its blessing, many of the smaller countries who really may not have all of the capability to do the due diligence to pick a technology, feel more comfortable if it is okayed by the ITU and it's implied it's a global technology. IMT-2000 fits under that umbrella in the telecom space and if it didn't happen, it's not a catastrophe, but it's a good thing to have it happen. We're working hard to get it approved making it easier to be accepted globally.

Another area we're focusing on is global roaming. The WiMAX Forum is taking on managing global roaming for WiMAX, and we have the leading players involved with expertise: Verisign, Cibernet and Telcordia. All of these guys are helping to define a low-cost, simple-to-use Internet-based manageable way to handle roaming, whether that is WiMAX to WiFi or WiMAX to 3G. We are doing this ourselves. The preliminary global roaming program will be rolled out in early to mid 2007.

Can you talk about the progress the WiMAX Forum has made with the 802.16e standard?

Resnick: The good news is the standard is already done. Some were claiming that the WiMAX standard would be out two or three years before MIMO happens, but I think the big business is this year. There will be the first iteration, which we call Wave 1, that is backward compatible. The standard is set and done for Wave 1 and MIMO, and certification labs are all in place for MIMO. And we have 16 vendors slated for the next Plug Fest. Almost every vendor is making equipment, except for Ericsson. That's not a bad track record. If only one isn't making it, it's probably a good sign… The world has recognized that we have a standard. I talk a lot about ETSI. 3GPP approved WiMAX at its last group meeting. It approved the two technologies and wrote an inner specification for it. It's all done.

Pyramid Research and others have come out saying they don't believe that WiMAX will be cheaper than 3G on the capex front. What is the WiMAX Forum's perspective?

Resnick: Pyramid's research is wrong. Honestly, you're not going to get a vendor to sit down with any firm and walk them through a personal database to determine how they calculate their base station rollout. There are all sorts of different assumptions in the design of a network. You can stack the deck any way you like… One major reduction in capex has to do with handoff. There are two ways to do handoffs: soft handoffs and hard handoffs. That is what is scaring other players to death. WiMAX's hard handoff model needs less base stations and is a smaller burden on the system. You can space the base stations further apart so it actually costs less.

There's a lot a talk about what role WiMAX plays with 3G. Is it complementary or competitive? Can you give your perspective?

Resnick: What we see is 3G being used as a complementary service to WiMAX. We're not claiming to deliver parallel circuit-switched voice services. We're an overlay technology. It could happen in China, where it's cheaper to do a 3G deployment and use WiMAX as an overlay and TD-SCDMA and WiMAX working together. Equipment providers will put a WiMAX blade with a 3G blade in a network. The big one folks don't talk or write about is the battle of the cable operators, the wireline operators and the mobile operators. And each of them may have an asset or something that can work in their favor. In the future, in order for them to take advantage to compete in the next generation, they all need to get the spectrum. Right now there is a push on regulators around the globe. In 2007, the regulators are going to say, "Enough, we need a competitive environment for mobile Internet." Fortunately WiMAX is a good choice, and then regulators can figure out how to auction spectrum to give cable and wireline operators the ability to compete against mobile operators. That is what is going to be going on in 2007. WiMAX networks are huge, and we'll see it skyrocketing in 2008.

A company like Sprint Nextel doesn't want to subsidize any WiMAX devices when it comes to market. Will we see devices low enough for Sprint to do this? Can the cost curve come down that fast?

Resnick: Companies like Intel can do it because the addition of a WiMAX radio when there is already WiFi in a notebook is a very small incremental cost. It's essentially the same silicon. The proof is in the pudding. All of these guys have documented and validated that they can get the cost so low that they don't have to do the subsidy side. We've made a good case there with all of the numbers we've done, including the IPR costs.

Can WiMAX really get IPR close to zero percent of equipment costs to make equipment significantly cheaper?

Resnick: I think they can get it close to 3 percent to 5 percent. That's better than 25 percent. We feel confident it will be in that range. We did a study. There are 1550 holders of IPR, and Qualcomm is not the biggest we feel.