Mastering the Electro-Political Engineering of Telecom Standards Bodies

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Mastering the Electro-Political Engineering of Telecom Standards Bodies

By TMCnet Special Guest
Cliff Halevi, Director of Telecom Services, Advanced Technology Solutions, Telcordia
  |  October 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY

If you have ever been associated with an industry standards body, you know that there can be a lot of complex dynamics surrounding these types of organizations. Sometimes, you have black-and-white, civil war-like clarity between rival standards (e.g., GSM vs. CDMA).

However, with so many standards bodies, with some working cooperatively on similar projects while others seeming to work at cross-purposes, it can be difficult to navigate the shifting technology, business, and political machinations within each organization.

Think of it as a mashup between technology development and a political election campaign: Electro-political engineering.

Even the most-connected telecom players can be challenged with where to start, prioritizing which bodies to engage in, discerning the roles of current members within an organization, and generally determining how to best maximize their involvement. For example, a large company may have different business units that approach a technology standard from different, not necessarily complementary, angles. State or federal regulatory requirements may affect how a company approaches a standards body.

Building business alliances, collecting market intelligence, evaluating the velocity with which a standard is evolving, or even slowing down the development of a specification are just a few of the factors that must be assessed when engaging in a standards body.

Companies need accurate, reliable information with a vendor-neutral assessment of a standards body’s goals, members, and accomplishments to make informed decisions on devoting resources to join an organization. More than 10 years ago, Telcordia (News - Alert) recognized the need for a repository of telecom standards-related information and – given the company’s involvement in all of the top bodies – built a standards knowledgebase offering.

Today, the Telcordia Standards Knowledgebase is a web-based subscription service with up-to-date, detailed information and analysis on virtually all of the world’s major telecom standards forums, including 3GPP, ATIS-sponsored committees, IEEE 802, IETF, ITU-T Study Groups, OIF, TM Forum (News - Alert), as well as newly emerging standards bodies such as Femto Forum, NGMN Alliance and more.

Why is this tool so important for telecom industry players? Here are some reasons, and some of them may sound familiar:

Perspective: Standards affect companies in different ways, depending on whether you are an incumbent with well-entrenched offerings or a startup with a game changer technology. In the case of an incumbent, following the development of a technology standard not only applies to new business opportunities but also protecting an old business. If you are an incumbent that sells $30 million switches and a new player comes along with a switch with comparable features for less than $500,000 based on a new technology, you now have a vested interest in that technology standard.

Allocating resources: If your competitor devotes a great deal of resources that double the number of technical contributions to a specification and accelerate its development, you may need to respond, either by devoting more resources of your own or another course of action.

Changing nature of standards development: In the past, standards generally were developed locally then rippled out internationally. Now, a reverse effect occurs. In North America, all of the telecom standards used to flow through ATIS (News - Alert), then move up to the international telecom standards body, ITU-T. Delta documents would be produced to lay out the modifications between the North American and international versions. Now, many standards are developed at the ITU-T, then released for local use. Or, standards are created by IEEE (News - Alert), IETF, 3GPP, etc. and are globally oriented from the beginning. The result is a global first approach to standards development that affects who participates in the standards body and the way a specification is written.

Who gets things done: When a company engages in a standards body, an important factor is identifying potential partners to help achieve its business goals. To the extent possible, companies want to find partners that possess the political networking that can get things done within the organization. A key point is that the best technology does not always win the race. The winners are usually the companies that developed the best business plan or built the necessary partnerships to help a specification coalesce.

Reporting: Reports on a body’s activities must be tailored for different roles within a company. For example, there may be a person who attends the standards meeting, a corporate standards manager who deploys internal resources on technology development, or a senior executive who oversees multiple departments. All of these users access and interpret information in various ways. A knowledgebase permits different users to analyze data from their unique viewpoints.

With standards bodies, there are a lot of moving targets. Companies constantly shift; the strategies within companies constantly shift. Technologies move ahead and leapfrog each other. The Telcordia Standards Knowledgebase is the only industry offering that provides a big-picture perspective on the developments of standards bodies, helping users understand the significance of recent happenings even if they have never been to a committee meeting.

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Edited by Jennifer Russell