Intel, WiMAX – The Role of Technical Policymaking

On Thursday October 18th, the Radiocommunication Sector of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU-R) approved the inclusion of WiMAX in the IMT-2000 set of standards, commonly known as 3G. This announcement is a major accomplishment for the WiMAX community and would not have been possible had it not been for the dedication and commitment of participants of the IEEE 802.16 Working Group, the WiMAX Forum, and individual companies.

The IEEE 802.16 Working Group actually develops the standards upon which WiMAX is based. The WiMAX Forum, a group of over 470 companies, has a mission to promote and accelerate the introduction of cost-effective broadband wireless access services into the marketplace.

What are the Implications

At the highest level, this approval is a huge vote of confidence in the technical capabilities of WiMAX. As the first radio interface added to the IMT-2000 set of standards since the original technologies were approved nearly a decade ago, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is acknowledging that WiMAX merits inclusion in the IMT family. This approval provides a level of assurance based upon technical due diligence that is important to many operators. Its inclusion also allows WiMAX to compete directly with the other widely used standards on equal footing; WiMAX now has greater access to the crucial 2.5 – 2.69 GHz spectrum band. This approval will allow service providers the option to choose which technology can best suit their business needs. Since WiMAX’s low complexity design, all IP network architecture, and economies of scale will enable tremendous costs savings, we think that many operators will choose WiMAX. Furthermore, the next generations of mobile networks are all planning to use Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) with Multiple Input/Multiple Output (MIMO) smart antenna technology due to increased spectral efficiency and performance. Mobile WiMAX is the first global standard to utilize OFDMA and MIMO.

Policymaking as a Key Enabler

Many factors contribute to the success of a wireless technology: capabilities/ performance metrics, technological innovation, time to market, cost, etc. Yet, the role of technical policymaking is often underestimated in the success of a technology. For instance, this ITU-R decision could prove to have serious implications on the cost of the technology as well as timing.

Access to spectrum is crucial for any wireless technology. WiMAX is predominantly utilized for providing Broadband Wireless Access in licensed spectrum bands, primarily the 2.3 GHz, 2.5 GHz and 3.5 GHz bands. Due to greater propagation characteristics at lower frequency bands, deployments in the 2.5 GHz spectrum band will require less base stations than similar deployments in the 3.5 GHz band. Therefore, access to 2.5 GHz can be an important factor for low-cost broadband access.

Furthermore, access to the 2.5 GHz band in many more countries increases the potential market for WiMAX. Greater economies of scale, of course, can have a dramatic effect on lowering the cost of a product to consumers. Therefore, we hope that the inclusion of WiMAX in the IMT-2000 family will allow consumers worldwide to benefit from the lower costs associated with economies of scale.

The timing of this decision was also very important. The ITU-R has “identified” the 2.5 GHz band (as well as others) for IMT-2000 technologies. In many countries, this means that any technology not in the IMT-2000 family cannot be deployed in that band so approval by the ITU-R as an IMT-2000 technology is crucial to gain access to spectrum. Given that some countries are allocating (via auction or beauty contests) the 2.5 GHz band in the near future, any delay could have potentially precluded WiMAX as a technology option for service providers.

Technical Policymaking

Clearly, technological innovation alone is not enough to enable success in the marketplace: policymaking also plays a large role. In many cases, however, changes to regulations can take as long as or longer than technological innovation itself. Within Intel, there is an entire organization in our company focusing on technical policymaking that works in parallel with the engineers working on new technologies.

The Technical Policy & Standards organization plays an important role in ensuring that regulatory conditions do not preclude new technologies from being deployed. This group covers a wide range of technical regulations, with the goal of enabling our technological innovations to be deployed worldwide. Members of this team actively participated in the industry effort on including WiMAX in the IMT-2000 family. The result has been a great success for the entire WiMAX community: the ITU recognition that provides assurance for operators and access to spectrum. This important breakthrough provides even more positive momentum for WiMAX.

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