If the multitudes bidding billions of dollars in the ongoing FCC spectrum auction don’t provide enough evidence that 700 MHz spectrum is a coveted commodity, the WiMAX Forum has emphasized the point with high priority plans to develop a 700 MHz specification/certification road map.

The Forum, which in the past has assiduously stuck to its guns that it was developing specifications for accepted international spectrum like 2.3, 2.5 and 3.5 GHz, has done an about-face and announced that 700 MHz is a key signpost on its technology road map.

“The market interest has grown considerably recently to the point where the board has decided to give it some high priority and made the announcement today (at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona) that we’re going to be working hard on the technical specifications for the band,” said Tim Hewitt, chairman of the Forum’s regulatory working group.

While the Forum has publicly maintained a low profile about 700 MHz, it “has been keeping an eye on 700 megs for quite some time,” Hewitt said. “There’s a nine-step process we have to go through (and) for some time we’ve been doing this background work on these nine points.”

The next step in the accelerated process is to announce specifications to support both TDD and FDD certification profiles, which, in itself is a bit of focus shift because TDD has previously dominated the organization’s work.

“That was the very strong drive from the market; they wanted these TDD systems,” Hewitt said.

Now the market, both in the U.S. and overseas, wants the combination of FDD and TDD to work with 700 MHz spectrum that’s just becoming available, especially as the FCC auctions off U.S. spectrum being abandoned by broadcasters moving to all-digital delivery.

“There’s an equally important and quite exciting thing under way in the world because the ITU at the recent radio conference identified what we know as the digital dividend spectrum, the UHF spectrum that will become available in many countries when television goes digital,” Hewitt said. “That’s spectrum near 700 MHz.”

The Forum is also looking at WiMAX from a slightly different perspective. while previous efforts included fixed or portable WiMAX based on IEEE 802.16d standards, the profile work within 700 MHz will be strictly 802.16e and especially mobile.

“There really isn’t a need to go through all the individual specs. We create the mobile profile and the operators can use that as they will,” said Hewitt. “I think in the main operators would either want to use it for mobility or would want the option in the future to use it for mobility so it makes sense to go for 802.16e.

While there’s no specific timetable for 700 MHz WiMAX specifications, Hewitt emphasized they are being pursued with a sense of urgency because “the market players, the manufacturers, the operators (are) sending us messages now that 700 is very important and there’s strong interest in WiMAX.”