Even as the FCC continues to rack up billions of dollars in bids for 700 MHz spectrum it’s wresting from broadcasters, the WiMAX Forum is gearing up to make it part of a new mobile wireless play.

The Forum, which in the past has concentrated on established worldwide spectrum like 2.3, 2.5 and 3.5 GHz, has concurrently downshifted and applied the pedal to the metal to see how 700 MHz fits into future plans for WiMAX mobile products and networks. Since the Forum is an "industry-led, not-for profit organization," it’s not taking these steps without direction.

"The market interest (in 700 MHz) has grown considerably to the point where the board has decided to give it some high priority," said Tim Hewitt, chairman of the Forum’s regulatory working group. "The auction has focused attention of the market players, the manufacturers, the operators, and they’re sending us messages now that 700 is very important, and there’s strong interest in WiMAX. It’s the right time for us to collect together the background work that has been going on and to move this forward."

To some extent, but not much, the Forum will be able to lean on work it’s already completed with more conventional wireless frequencies. That work will expand, though, because 700 MHz will use both TDD (time division duplex) and FDD (frequency division duplex) transmission methods. The earth’s been spaded "Most of what we’ve been focused on at this point has been TDD," Hewitt admitted. "That work is underway; we have profiles established; we have labs up and running and ready to do the certification work; we have a large number of TDD-certified products, and that work will go ahead now and hopefully produce the first certified profiles early this year. With that underway, we can begin to look at other things, and the next thing that appears to be of importance to the market and to our members is 700 MHz."

Ya think? Surprising as it might be, these guys aren’t bidding billions of dollars on air; they want to do something with that spectrum, and mobile WiMAX – and the Forum is working on the 802.16e mobile standard – would open the door for either a new breed of wireless broadband carrier or bulk up the existing mobile carriers with broadband-rich spectrum that would be ideal for WiMAX.

The one thing that’s likely is that the cable industry, as a whole, won’t be a player. While Cox Communications and Cablevision Systems were both announced bidders and Bresnan was in the mix, cable’s biggest guns, Comcast and Time Warner, declined to get involved.

The WiMAX Forum has no such qualms about getting involved, although it won’t be doing any bidding.

"We are moving to support a market that’s obviously there and people who now have been able to say exactly what they want," said Hewitt.

– Jim Barthold

The Daily

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