WiMax joins 3G family

WiMax's incorporation into the IMT-2000 set of standards paves the way for co-operation with 3G in the evolution of wireless broadband

WiMax has effectively been folded into 3G's future development, after the International Telecommunication Union decided on Friday to include it in the IMT-2000 set of standards.

Although WiMax and 3G have been battling it out as rival broadband wireless technologies, Friday's move paves the way for both to be integrated into future standards.

"This decision is of global importance to operators, who look to ITU [the International Telecommunication Union] to endorse technologies before they invest in new infrastructure," the WiMax Forum said in a statement. "The decision to approve the WiMax Forum's version of IEEE Standard 802.16 as an IMT-2000 technology significantly escalates opportunities for global deployment, especially within the 2.5-2.69GHz band, to deliver mobile internet to satisfy both rural and urban market demand."

According to Ron Resnick, the WiMax Forum's president, this is the first time a new air interface has been added to the IMT-2000 set of standards since the original technologies were selected nearly a decade ago. "3G solutions based upon technologies such as W-CDMA, CDMA-2000, and TD-SCDMA were already included in the IMT-2000 set of standards," said Resnick.

"With WiMax technology now included, it places us on equal footing with the legacy-based technologies ITU-R [ITU Radiocommunication Sector, the spectrum management sector of the ITU] already endorses. The bottom line is that operators across the globe now have the freedom to select the right technology to best meet their business and regional needs," Resnick added.

David Pringle, a spokesperson for the GSM Association (GSMA), an organisation which represents mobile operators, told ZDNet.co.uk that the GSMA was "relaxed" about the development. "We think it is good that operators will have the flexibility to use WiMax in IMT-2000 spectrum if they wish," he said. "We do see WiMax as a complimentary or niche technology alongside the main GSM evolution path, which essentially today is HSPA [Super 3G], so we expect the majority of operators to focus their energy and resources on that path. But WiMax has a role to play."

Pringle said that operators would want future wireless technology to be compatible and would therefore want to reuse their existing investment in infrastructure and radio spectrum. He also noted that the "long-term evolution" (LTE) of 3G should also use "the very latest radio access technologies and techniques for utilising spectrum". He added: "We are confident that HSPA has a very long evolution path."

An auction is to be held next year in which spectrum around the 2.6GHz band — which is usable for both 3G and mobile WiMax — will be sold off on a technology-neutral basis. It remains to be seen what the implications of Friday's announcement are for that auction but, as the investments already made in 3G infrastructure had been a major detrimental factor for WiMax, its inclusion in IMT-2000 has the potential to shake up the entire argument.

"We welcome this because it fits in very closely with Ofcom's flexible approach to spectrum management in the UK," a spokesperson for Ofcom told ZDNet.co.uk on Friday.