Electrical engineer institute's new WiFi measures won’t get American national standard designation

11 Mar 2019 12:40 pm

Two WiFi standards proposed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers have failed to win the backing of a non-profit that accredits US standards. The American National Standards Institute didn’t offer any public reasoning for its rare disapproval, but the standards are the first it has reviewed since IEEE controversially changed it patent policy in 2015 over the objections of companies like Ericsson, Nokia and Qualcomm.

ANSI is a non-governmental body composed of businesses, trade associations and US agencies that accredits standards groups and coordinates US standards. The group describes itself as a “neutral forum” to promote standards policies and a “watchdog” for standards development.

In its March 1 newsletter, ANSI said it had disapproved two standards proposed by IEEE. Both of the proposed standards are amendments to IEEE’s primary WiFi standard, 802.11.

Susanah Doucet, an ANSI spokeswoman, confirmed the disapproval.

“It is not an everyday occurrence, but it does happen from time to time,” she said, adding that IEEE can seek to appeal within ANSI or modify the standard and submit it again.

The two IEEE standards — 802.11ah and 802.11ai — were the products of years of work and finalized within the standards group in 2017. The 802.11ah standard focuses on lower-energy consumption and connectivity for Internet of Things devices, while 802.11ai focuses on improving connectivity in dense environments such as stadiums and shopping malls.

The two standards were the first finalized under IEEE’s new patent policy, adopted in 2015. Under the new policy, IEEE agreed to place limits on the ability of patent holders to obtain injunctions embedded in its standards. The policy also required patent holders to make their technology available to component makers — as opposed to licensing only to end-device manufacturers — and stipulated that royalties should be based on the “smallest salable unit.”

Companies such as Cisco and Intel were staunch supporters of the change, while those with large patent portfolios such as Qualcomm and Ericsson were opposed. The US Department of Justice reviewed the change and declined to object on antitrust grounds.

After IEEE adopted the policy change, however, a number of companies declined to agree to license under the new terms, providing what is known as a negative letter of assurance. On the 802.11ah standard, Ericsson, Nokia and the Dutch telecommunication company KPN said they wouldn’t provide licenses under IEEE’s new patent policy. Ericsson and Nokia also declined for 802.11ai, according to IEEE documents.

Without ANSI’s approval, the two standards aren’t considered “American National Standards” and the group won’t promote their usage within international standards bodies, such as the International Standards Organization, or ISO.

IEEE spokesperson Monika Stickel said the group is reviewing the information ANSI provided and declined to comment on whether it would seek an appeal.

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