IEEE 802.20 changes rules to prevent steamrolling

The IEEE 802.20 broadband wireless standards group has changed its voting rules to prevent domination by one company.

The working group for the emerging IEEE 802.20 mobile broadband standard, which was suspended last year after a fight over members' real company affiliations, has changed its voting rules.

In the IEEE 802.20 working group, each entity -- including vendors, university research groups and other bodies -- will have one vote. Typically in IEEE networking standards groups, members vote as individuals regardless of whom they work for.

The working group was suspended in June 2006 after allegations that Qualcomm was improperly trying to dominate the process and that its then-chairman, Jerry Upton, had identified himself as an independent consultant but was paid by Qualcomm. Upton has since disclosed his work as a consultant for Qualcomm.

The latest move, made Tuesday during a meeting of several IEEE standards bodies in San Francisco, came amid continuing concerns about domination of the group, 802.20 Committee Chairman Paul Nikolich said in a written statement. The change will help deliver a standard in a timely way, he said.

Worries about Qualcomm's influence over the standards process seem to have continued. At a meeting in Montreal in May, some members of the group expressed concern that the company had two votes on the working group's Editorial Group because both the chair and one member represented Qualcomm, according to the draft minutes of the meeting. The chair clarified that the chair was only to vote when needed to break a tie.

IEEE 802.20 is intended as a multi-megabit mobile data and voice system. Some of the technology that has played a role in it was developed by Flarion Technologies, which Qualcomm acquired in 2005.

With 3G (third-generation) cellular networks now going after the 1M bps (bit-per-second) barrier, there is no shortage of potential rivals to IEEE 802.20. Another mobile broadband standard, IEEE 802.16e, is being adopted by many system vendors and service providers under the WiMax name. One advantage of 802.20, proponents have said, is that it can be used in faster moving vehicles than can WiMax.

Sprint Nextel, having previously tested Flarion's system, last year chose WiMax for its nationwide 4G network for commercial launch that will be launched next year. The company said Thursday it plans to join with ClearWire for broader coverage. Sprint Nextel chose WiMax because it already existed as a technology and a standard and was being embraced by a large number of equipment vendors, including Nokia, said Atish Gude, senior vice president of mobile broadband operations at Sprint.

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
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