WiFi gets high profile, by moving into mobile phone convergence

by Guy Kewney | posted on 22 October 2004

>p>What do these have in common: the HP iPaq h6315; the Nokia 9500 Communicator, the Intermec 760 Mobile Computer, the Motorola MPx and the Sandisk Connect WiFi card? Answer: all are "approved" by the WiFi Alliance. All are cellular phone products. Question: who cares?

Guy Kewney

<1/> An Intermec mobile computer

The obvious answer is: "The WiFi Alliance cares." It badly needs to have its logo more widely recognised and valued, and especially if it is to significantly influence rogue WiFi members who jump the gun on pre-standard products.

However, the excuse for expanding the WiFi approved logo to cellular must have impressed these manufacturers, or the Alliance wouldn't have been able to get them submitted for compatibility testing.

The way the Alliance sees the move, it is "meeting the unique needs of the cellular industry, deploying converged WiFi/Cellular products."

To meet these unique needs, the Alliance has formed a new group, the WCC task group, for WiFi/Cellular Convergence, and the list of products above is the first round of certified products, providing both WiFi and cellular communications.

"These certifications, along with the large number of similar products under development, point to a rapidly evolving trend toward a range of products that enable both WiFi and cellular communications," said the Alliance yesterday.

The task group is "focused on identifying and meeting the cellular industry's unique certification requirements for WiFi functions in WCC devices."

Alliance chief, Frank Hanzlik, as usual, produced one of his consummately professional non-statements, revealing little or nothing of what might be behind the move: "Through its established global network of labs, the WiFi Alliance has the certification infrastructure in place to advance the cellular industry's adoption of WiFi in converged WiFi/Cellular products."

He is quite correct in referring to: "Our extensive experience in certifying WiFi products" and suggesting that this will be useful as convergence comes. It is, also, quite obviously true that the previous WiFi certification system wouldn't cover these devices, because they aren't going to use off-the-shelf PC cards or PCI cards, but will have WiFi components built in at the factory by people like Nokia and HP.

But it is also the case that getting the Alliance stamp of approval on cellular products will bring the existence of the Alliance itself to the notice of millions of people who might otherwise never discover that the organisation exists. And while the Alliance carries some sway with the wireless community, it can never have the sort of clout that the Bluetooth SIG has in moderating the actions of members.

The difference is simple: all Bluetooth SIG members provide their intellectual property to the SIG, and in exchange, get the rights to use the IP of other SIG members.

Get thrown out of the SIG, and your products suddenly become liable to legal action by all the other members whose technology you have to use to comply with the Bluetooth standard. Get thrown out of the WiFi Alliance, and you're going to cause rage and frustration to the other members - but there won't be an awful lot they can do about it, because you will have signed cross-patent deals with them - deals which are not contingent on belonging to the Alliance.

Wider awareness of the Alliance logo increases its influence on members to stay in line and not jump the queue with standards.

The Alliance will be promoting its services in January at the International CES in Las Vegas, South Hall #4, Booth #37017 from January 6-9, 2005, at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Nevada.

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