Wireless Networking

WiMax Players Form Alliance to Host Patent Pool Party

Six of technology’s biggest names are joining forces to make wired connections a thing of the past. Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Systems, Clearwire, Intel, Samsung and Sprint Nextel announced an agreement this week to form the Open Patent Alliance to help companies develop cutting-edge WiMax devices at a reasonable cost.

The concept driving the Open Patent Alliance is the idea of open intellectual property rights. Instead of individual companies developing products and charging their own patent royalties — as has been the norm with 3G and other cellular-based platforms — the newly formed alliance is designed to make patents cheap and easy for anyone to obtain.

Unleashing Innovation

“In the normal telecommunications world, you have very few patent holders — which seemed to simplify the process, but also kind of put the choke hold on innovation,” said John Polivka, a spokesperson for Sprint. “With the open Internet, there is an opportunity for a more democratic process for patent participation,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The alliance will charge developers only for the tools needed to create WiMax products. It will utilize independent third parties to act as “patent referees,” evaluating proposals and deciding their fates.

“That streamlines the process and should unleash innovation,” Polivka noted. “When you unleash that innovation, you’re going to make more WiMax devices possible and more services pervasive.”

Ongoing Development

The idea of a wide-reaching, high-speed network spanning the nation has been in the works for years. Sprint has been at the forefront of the movement with its plan to build the nation’s first WiMax network. Just last month, the company announced a US$14.5 billion partnership with Clearwire to bring the blazingly fast speeds to half the country’s population by the year 2010. Google, Intel, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks are all also invested in the project.

Nokia — which has not signed on with the Open Patent Alliance — is already preparing its first WiMax-enabled product. The N810 Internet Tablet WiMax Edition is slated for a summer release. The product will utilize Sprint’s WiMax network.

“Technology is very much the enabler for wireless services going forward,” Nokia Media Relations Manager Keith Nowak told TechNewsWorld. “A lot of these Internet services are going to be enabled by these next-generation wireless technologies. We’re very interested in it.”

A Limitless Future

The companies behind the Open Patent Alliance hope to see many more kinds of creations in the coming years. The boundaries, they say, are limitless.

“It’s almost unimaginable,” Sprint’s Polivka told TechNewsWorld. “We’re thinking beyond the cell phone with WiMax. That means approaching the consumer electronics industry, all the devices in the current household or office — things that need a cable to connect or do not have wireless Internet capability.”

Future options could include wireless photo transfers from digital cameras to printers or Web sites, synced monitor displays of video being shot on camcorders, and remote diagnostic tools for utility meters and appliances.

“You start getting technology and infrastructure and an embedded chipset model moving in the same direction, under a common vision,” Polivka explained. “That’s where innovation comes from.”

The kind of innovation that could come from this alliance, Polivka hopes, will embrace the open nature of the Internet — and put the power in the public’s hands.

“In order to unleash the innovation the Internet represents, you really need to make intellectual property accessible,” he said. “This initiative with the new companies allows that to happen. It’s all an extension of the original WiMax ecosystem, and it really signifies further endorsement of the WiMax business model.”

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