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Mobile Broadband Working Group on Hold

The IEEE-SA Standards Board directed that all activities of the 802.20 (mobile broadband) Working Group be temporarily suspended with immediate effect, citing "irregularities" in its activities.

What effect will this action have on the major stakeholders in the mobile broadband market and on vendors committed to mobile WiMAX? In particular, what are the implications for Qualcomm? According to ABI Research senior analyst Philip Solis, the IEEE's action forms something of an obstacle for the company.

"This development removes � at least for the time being � one potential competitor to mobile WiMAX, whose backers can concentrate more on competing with 3G cellular technologies," concludes Solis. "It represents a minor setback for Qualcomm in its efforts to future-proof itself and to develop a roadmap for further technology developments."

The bald statement from the IEEE just skimmed the surface of the industry-political storm that has been brewing within the 802.20 working group. WiMAX, which meets the same communication needs and has an established standard, is moving towards a certification process. "A number of companies such as Motorola and Navini, are focusing closely on mobile WiMAX, and Intel has been a strong WiMAX proponent. They don't want to see 802.20 dilute the market," says Solis.

Qualcomm, however, has focused on 802.20 to the exclusion of WiMAX and, it is suggested, has attempted to stack the working group with consultants loyal to its cause. Employees of Intel and Motorola filed statements and appeals alleging that a number of consultants had been improperly voting as a block in favor of Qualcomm, and that the group's chairman, Jerry Upton, was biased in the company's favor. Mr. Upton has since acknowledged that he is a consultant for the firm.

The Working Group's suspension is scheduled to last until October 1. After that? According to Solis, "It remains to be seen whether the 802.20 Working Group can or will be revived." Furthermore, given Nokia's recent announcement that it would end support for the declining Qualcomm-backed CDMA mobile phone standard, one has to wonder if Qualcomm is falling victim to its own legacy business practices.

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