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Standardization - from innovation to success

Written by  Dr Walter Weigel
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Dr Walter WeigelIssue:Europe I 2010
Article no.:2
Topic:Standardization - from innovation to success
Author:Dr Walter Weigel
Title:Director-General
Organisation:European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI)
PDF size:168KB

About author

Dr Walter Weigel is the Director-General of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) the leading global ICT standards organisation. Prior to this, Dr Weigel held various management positions with Siemens Germany where he began his career. Dr Walter Weigel graduated with a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the Technical University of Munich; he earned his PhD in Electrical Engineering on pattern recognition.

 

Article abstract

Standardization multiplies the value, impact and utility of each link in the value chain - from the initial concept, R&D, manufacturing and so on right through to the consumer - of any new technology. This is especially true of ICT, where every aspect - products, markets, technologies - is defined by standards. New products, new technologies, new market segments, all depend upon standardization at some point in time, in order to have an impact and to generate a return on investment.

 

Full Article

ETSI is widely recognized in the mobile communications industry as the place where the standards behind the GSM family of technologies were developed. With services in over 200 countries around the world, GSM and its enhancements (GPRS, EDGE) have been an outstanding success, and 3GPP’s ‘3rd Generation’ UMTS mobile technology, evolved from GSM, continues that success story. Trials of LTE, the latest step in the evolutionary path, are already underway, with the early standards completed more than a year ago. With such standardization success stories in the market, it is worthwhile analysing this success, especially concerning the value chain of research - standardization - business development. When one examines the success of the GSM family of standards, there are clear technological and economic advantages offered by this system, which the market recognized. Behind the market success, behind the years of development of the standards, there were also years of research performed in Europe, and millions of Euros of investment in technology development. A key characteristic of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) research in Europe is the extent to which publicly funded collaborative research projects play a role. Research programmes such as the nationally funded Eureka programme, especially its CELTIC telecommunications cluster, and the European Commission (EC)-funded Framework Programme and its predecessors, have made significant funds available to European universities, research institutes and to industry for mobile research on a co-funded basis. A direct link can be drawn between key projects in these programmes and the mobile technologies, which are standardized in ETSI and 3GPP. These programmes continue today and are already commencing studies on technologies that could supersede LTE. The ICT industry is certainly the industry which has been most impacted by standards and specifications. In no other industry does one find such a large number of fora, consortia and formal standards bodies, collaborating and competing at the same time. Practically every ICT market is defined to a greater or lesser extent by standards. Almost all ICT products are developed using standards or specifications, whether formal, or de facto. The concept of ‘networked development’ saw its birth in ICT, and it is virtually impossible to develop a product today without needing to re-use the developments of others: software is developed to run on specific operating systems, new hardware uses defined chipsets, interoperability and connectivity requirements dictate the use of standardized interfaces or connectors. This is true as much for consumer devices as for industrial products. This standardization system may appear to have a direct cost for developers, but the economic benefits are huge. Instead of national or regional markets, the ICT standardization system has helped develop global markets for products. Economies of scale are obvious, components can be sourced from many suppliers, and developer or programming expertise is available worldwide. Joint marketing and common branding of interoperable technology provides leverage to smaller companies, enables new entrants and increases competition. Few companies today have the power to create a new ICT technology alone, to create an associated brand, market and entire product range, and dominate it. But we have seen new companies enter existing, defined and standardized ICT markets, and in the short space of a few years grow to become household names and market leaders. Today it is almost inconceivable that a customer could purchase a consumer electronics product in one country and not be able to operate it in another country. It is equally almost inconceivable that an ICT product be only developed for one national market. The crowning example of such a standardization system creating a single global market is the case of the GSM family of standards. Some 15,000 specifications, all versions included, describe every feature of GSM, GPRS, UMTS, LTE and LTE-Advanced, on the radio access level and inside the core network. No consumer stops to consider if his newly purchased mobile phone will interoperate with his operator’s network. When we travel we no longer even consider if a compatible network will be available in any new country we visit - such is the extent of worldwide take-up of the GSM family of standards. Mobile communications is the clear example, but the same process can be seen throughout our industry. Collaborative research and networked development lead to international standardization with the aim of creating global markets, and the products to fill them. In this environment it is important that standardization is closely integrated to the other parts of the process. ETSI’s members have always considered standardization to be a business process. Our model of direct participation in the standards process enables companies to maintain a close link between their standards teams and their product development teams. Our slogan, ‘Standards for Business’ is illustrative of this, and indeed we have recently organized a very successful ETSI Business Innovation Summit together with Informa in 2009 to further emphasise the point. Such was the enthusiasm for the event that we are already planning another in 2010, and it may become a permanent fixture. The link between standardization and product development teams is straightforward for members of an organization like ETSI. The link between standardization and research is every bit as important but requires more effort. Although many companies understandably like to shield or hide their research activities, the collaborative nature of European R&D means that industry partnerships and alliances are already being formed at this early stage. Likewise, researchers do bring their results to certain standards committees, or to fora or consortia, at early-stage standardization or pre-standardization. A standards body like ETSI cannot afford to ignore pre-standardization, as often the groups where researchers exchange early stage specifications grow to become full industrial standards committees. We have undertaken a number of practical steps to aid this process, from establishing rapid Industry Specification Groups, to improving access to research personnel and reducing fees for universities and similar research bodies. We are constantly seeking new ways to reach out to the European research community, through direct participation and presence in research conferences, hosting workshops at ETSI, establishing links with key research institutes and with the funding authorities. Our message to the research community is quite simple: the nature of our industry is such that almost all our products, markets, technologies are defined by standards. If our researchers aim for return on investment by developing new products, new technologies, perhaps even whole new market segments, then they must bring their results to standardization at some point in time, in order to have an impact. The extent of public funding behind European research provides further encouragement to the research community to share and collaborate, in their projects and in early-stage standardization. And the shining example of the development of the GSM family is proof, if any were needed, that such a relationship is successful. Politically, this question is arising especially about the Internet of the Future (IoF). Today European researchers are working to develop the technologies that will feature in the Internet of the future. This will be very different from the Internet we know today. Mobile systems will provide us with true ubiquitous and seamless access to this Internet from a range of devices, and will likely be the primary means of access to the Internet in the future. Such an Internet will not only provide us with content and entertainment, but also with services and applications, which will be integrated into the fabric of our lives in a way, we can only begin to imagine. This Internet will become a critical infrastructure that we will be able to depend upon. This vision requires technological advances in mobile radio systems, but also in trust and security, in applications and their interaction with each other, in devices, displays, user interfaces, in the core capacity of the system, and in self-management of the whole system. European governments, European industry, and the European Commission together are investing in these developments, many of which will materialise as innovative products well before the whole vision is complete. ETSI is bridging from the research community to business development in industry (80 per cent of ETSI's membership is industry) by preparing the ground for standardization and hence realizing benefits from this vast research programme. By enabling a greater flow of ideas from research, through standardization, to innovative products, ETSI plays an important and vital role for its members, and for the research community. Working together we are building the mobile networks of the future.

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