LTE IPR agreement a tough sell

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

An LTE patent framework is being pushed by a handful of companies to restrict the total IP licensing fees to single digit percentage of the handset ASP. Companies include Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, NEC, Nextwave, Nokia, Nokia Siemens Network and Sony-Ericsson. The announcement further calls upon interested parties to join this alliance to ‘stimulate early adoption’ of LTE. Though I can see the reasons for such an arrangement, I am not very optimistic about its large-scale success.

Part of the problem with LTE or any OFDMA-based standard is the diffused nature of the IP. Many more companies have a stake in the IP pie now than for example, in WCDMA in which Qualcomm has close to 30% of essential IP. So, if there is no upper bound on the royalty rates, the costs can potentially be more prohibitive than the existing CDMA standards and will have a direct impact on the handset ASP. You can read more about my OFDMA, LTE and WiMAX coverage here and here

Another thing to note is that this has been tried before in the 3GPP with WCDMA way back in 2002. Nokia, NTT Docomo, Ericsson and Siemens were among those who initially agreed to cap the cumulative royalty at around 5-6% of the handset ASP. The move did not generate widespread interest. Qualcomm, InterDigital and others with a strong IP presence have stayed away from such deals and are now reaping rich rewards. The WCDMA total royalty rates have hence remained much larger than the envisioned single digit numbers. You can read more about the IP strengths of Qualcomm and InterDigital here and here.

The handset vendors and carriers want to make sure that no one company becomes an Achilles heel in the productization and large scale proliferation of these technologies. However, even if chipset vendors join the bandwagon, these standards will still run the risk of an outsider company staking its claim on essential IP. So, while the 3GPP has tried hard not to repeat the 'Qualcomm effect' again for LTE, it will be interesting to see how this strategy plays out given the more diffused nature of OFDMA IP.

[Long Qualcomm at the time of writing]

Posted by Vijay Nagarajan at 4:00 PM  

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