Driving globalisation of technology standards from 3GPP and ETSI
Innovation ideas, by definition, are created and developed precisely by thinking “out of the box”. However, when these ideas are to be turned into commercial products to serve mass and often global markets, standardisation always plays a critical role. With industry standards, concept-proofed inventions and innovations can go on trials and their interoperability be tested with other products. This does not mean that standardisation will commoditise everything. Instead, industry standards enable businesses in the ecosystem to work with each other over standardised interfaces and attract multiple vendors on board to achieve economies of scale.
ETSI has always ensured that multiple parties would benefit from properly developed industry standards. Standards reduce the risk of investing in the wrong technology and businesses find it easier to attract investment for their innovations, while the chance to reach a bigger market increases. Standards also drive a fairer competition environment and reduce non-compliance, which means reaching a bigger market, and increasing safety and environmental considerations.
For individual consumers and communities, industry standards are also an asset as stakeholders participating in the standardisation process represent consumer interests from various sectors, whereas companies going their own way would often only have limited visibility and outreach. A standardised approach also facilitates economies of scale that can, in turn, offer tangible savings to consumers. By buying products meeting industry standards, consumers can be assured that their concerns around their safety and the environment are addressed.
Scrase believes that there are risks in the standardisation processes that can derail them from their mission, probably none more so than standardisation bodies being monopolised by one or two big members, or special interest groups, or governments. To mitigate such risks, well established standardization bodies such as 3GPP and ETSI adhere to a set of principles and make sure they are strictly enforced. The most important ones include:
Openness: The standardisation process needs to be easily accessible to all interested stakeholders at all stages, from policy development and draft submission, to adoption and dissemination of the standards.
Transparency: The draft standard is made available to all working group members along its development steps with sufficient time to offer them the possibility to submit comments.
Impartiality: The process is managed by a group of diverse stakeholders with varied interests to avoid being influenced by funding or certain interest groups for instance.
Equity: All representatives are free to express their position and comments and every representative opinion should be considered.
Consensus: Every effort is made to reach consensus, and the views of all stakeholders should be taken into account. On occasions when unanimity is not attainable, a standard should be able to be approved by a large majority of the group of stakeholders.
Relevance to market needs: The standard responds to regulatory and market needs and does not try to distort the global market while fair standards enable implementation by different providers and enable competition in the market. IPR policies ensure transparent procedure.
Viability and stability: Major standards bodies guarantee viability and stability of the standardization process and of their IT infrastructure in the long run, even at times of budget restrictions.
Scrase also introduced that working with the other six organisational partners, ETSI has helped guarantee that 3GPP also strictly adheres to these principles. As a result, the standards published by 3GPP have become guiding standards for and almost universally adopted by the telecoms industry moving from 3G to 4G and 5G. The 3GPP project has now grown into 705 members coming from 45 territories worldwide. Moreover, industries ranging from aerospace and agriculture to maritime, mining, and social media, have increasingly gravitated towards 3GPP’s work, making the standardisation body a community of interest in ICT at large.
In addition to publishing standards for all aspects of the digital world, all 3GPP partners including ETSI also play an important role in connecting research to standardisation. Although much research and innovation is conducted in the so-called “pre-standardisation” mode, having a roadmap from the outset for standardisation targets is important for the success of such research and innovation. Indeed research projects that have a close link to the standardisation process and have iterative feedback mechanism in place have a better chance to be encapsulated in future standards.
The link between the two processes has not always been strong and well-established, not only between research companies and standardisation bodies, but also inside a lot of enterprises, including many industry leaders. The R&D departments of these companies and their representatives at industry standardisation bodies often fail to keep each other updated. Bridging gaps and strengthening links between these functions will be critically important as the industry already starts looking at what 5G and beyond, even 6G, should look like.
For innovative research, a lighter form of standardisation may be required, as opposed to more formal 5G or 6G systems for example. Such early standardisation work resulting from research projects may be done in ETSI’s Industry Specification Groups (ISGs) which led to the development of many technology standards such as NFV, edge computing, AI, quantum safe cryptography and many more. An ISG may be established by a minimum of 4 ETSI members with specifications and reports that can be published within a few months. ISGs are open to both ETSI members and non-members.
Scrase stated that the industry needs both the research and the standardisation sides to change working methods and improve the links between them. There needs to be better cooperation between research projects and standardisation bodies, not only across business entities but also within companies. Standardisation bodies aim to proactively communicate the advantages and benefits of standardization to the research community, which may not find them obvious. This can be done by the standardisation bodies presenting themselves and their values to the academic and other research communities. Last but not least, Scrase emphasised that a better coordination between research bodies and standardisation bodies is needed for creating a better digital world, and that is also what ETSI and 3GPP will ensure for the upcoming decades.
We have seen that the efforts made by ETSI and 3GPP have worked in the 3G & 4G era, and they will keep serving the ICT sector to drive 5G standards and their components as well as the next generations of standards.