Cisco, Intel to lead WiMAX patent alliance

Cisco, Intel to lead WiMAX patent alliance

Will cross-license patents to spur WiMAX innovation

Cisco and four other major tech companies have banded together to form a WiMAX patent pool to give companies access to WiMAX patents at predictable costs.

The new Open Patent Alliance (OPA), whose other members are Alcatel-Lucent, Clearwire, Samsung and Sprint, is a consortium of companies that hold WiMAX 4G mobile broadband technology patents that will act as the official patent holder for companies that want to purchase WiMAX licenses. Thus, any company that wants to create a WiMAX-enabled device or application will have to reach a licensing agreement with the OPA before selling their product on the market.

According to Cisco, the OPA's goal is to issue WiMAX licenses to interested companies at "a more predictable cost" than what companies would pay if they had to negotiate with each WiMAX patent holder individually. To reduce licensing costs, the OPA will use a royalty structure that charges only for the features to develop WiMAX products.

"What the OPA does is it provides a foundation where people have predictability," says Barry West, the CTO of Sprint's Xohm unit. "Usually, companies would have to deal with multiple patent users, so we're more of a facilitator to help them get WiMAX licenses from a single source."

During Monday morning's new conference announcing the OPA launch, OPA members were asked if they had any plans to integrate WiMAX with the rival 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology; recently, Intel executive vice president Sean Maloney said he'd like to see LTE and WiMAX combined together into one interoperable standard. While none of the OPA members at the telecast explicitly ruled out a WiMAX-LTE marriage, they all agreed that it was far too soon to determine whether LTE would be successful enough to warrant a merger with WiMAX.

"LTE is a technology that is expected to be available in three years' time," said Sriram Viswanathan, the managing director of Intel Capital and general manager of the WiMAX program office. "When there's something to converge with we'll think about converging with it."

WiMAX received a big boost as a technology last month when Sprint and Clearwire announced that they will be combining their WiMAX businesses to create a US$14.5 billion mobile broadband company. As had been rumored for the past few months, the new company will be focused primarily on deploying a nationwide WiMAX network that will provide 4G coverage to consumers, businesses and even government public safety services in urban and rural markets. The company, which will be known as Clearwire, has also secured US$3.2 billion in total investments from several major tech and communications companies, including Google, Intel, Comcast, Time-Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

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