The IEEE's temporary suspension of activities at the 802.20 Mobile Broadband Wireless Access Working Group has unmasked festering policy problems within the broader 802 standards effort. The suspension is the first in the 802 group's 20 years of existence. But it is just the latest consequence of a long legacy of questionable practices that collectively undermine the voting structure at the heart of 802's success.
Most recently--and controversially--fallout landed on the 802.15.3a task group, which disbanded after failing to settle on an ultrawideband standard, and on the 802.11n task group on next-generation wireless LANs, when companies launched a coalition outside the group in an attempt to muscle through a standard.
"This is a crisis. The IEEE 802 process may be broken unless the [IEEE] standards board can force companies to play nice," said one consultant who has attended 802 meetings since the early days of Ethernet. "And why should they need to, in the aftermath of the big corporate scandals? Companies should be going out of their way to appear to play fair."
Meanwhile, progress made by such industry consortia as the Wi-Fi alliance and WiMax Forum suggests successful wireless standards can be developed outside the IEEE's working group structure.
In an interview with EE Times, IEEE standards board chairman Steve Mills and 802 chairman Paul Nikolich said the unusual 802.20 action had been warranted because of the high degree of alleged irregularities within the working group.
When the suspension was announced June 15, Qualcomm Inc.'s role in the working group took center stage, with allegations that the group's chairman, consultant Jerry Upton, had not fully disclosed his affiliation with Qualcomm. In appeals to the 802 standards board and executive committee, Intel Corp. and Motorola Inc. claim their draft proposals for the sub-3-GHz licensed broadband standard were given short shrift compared with Qualcomm-based approaches.
But some independent participants in multiple 802 working groups told EE Times that Qualcomm's behavior was only unusual in the degree to which the San Diego wireless giant allegedly tried to sway the work of the committee. Other working groups, including those addressing Ethernet, wireless LANs and ultrawideband personal-area networks, have likewise fallen prey to companies that try to influence the votes of participants who do not understand the issues, the sources said.
"The problem is by no means limited to Qualcomm or to the 802.20 group," said the Ethernet consultant, who requested anonymity. "Companies consistently abuse the 'one person, one vote' clause to take advantage of the process. The standards board is forced into cracking down, and if you're a legitimate independent who wants to play the game fairly, you end up getting treated like someone on the no-fly list."
Mills, however, said he sees no evidence that there are serious problems beyond 802.20, adding that the rules for independent consultants are not draconian. Nikolich acknowledged that the 802.20 group began requiring a "declaration of affiliation" several months ago and that the 802 executive committee made the same requirement at the executive level for consultant disclosures. But both he and Mills noted that most working groups do not require consultants to report all affiliations.
"The things we're seeing are only observed in a minority of cases, and only 802.20 rose to the level of necessary action," Nikolich said.
The standards board suspended all 802.20 activities until Oct. 1, canceling a plenary meeting slated for July and interim work scheduled for September. Three appeals on the November 2005 decision to approve a draft standard--one before the standards board and two before the executive committee--are in process, Mills said. If those appeals are rejected, the 802.20 working group will pick up where it left off, at the post-draft-approval stage of early 2006, when it reconvenes.