Evolving standards development for the new mobile ecosystem

by Gary K. Jones, Chairman, Board of Directors North America, Open Mobile Alliance & Senior Director, Head of Technical Standards Policy, T Mobile North America, Connect World North America 

Gary_JonesAs Chairman of the Board of the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA), Gary Jones directs and coordinates the alliance’s efforts. In addition to his role as Senior Director and Head of Technical Standards Policy for T Mobile North America, Gary has accumulated years of experience in driving standards across the wireless industry. Gary has also contributed to the development of Wireless Priority Service and Secure Communications capabilities for the government. Bringing his years of experience and leadership to the OMA, Gary has been key in the OMA’s efforts and a catalyst for the consolidation of standards activity within the mobile data service industry.

Today, in the wireless industry there is a disconnect between the communities that produce specifications and the communities that use them. This divide is one between the Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) and Standard Setting Organizations (SSOs) that define how wireless networks operate and deliver services, and the application developers creating applications for use over those networks.

Much has changed in the telecommunications industry in the years since SDOs/SSOs such as 3GPP, ITU and OMA were formed. In the early days of telecom and the Internet, as fundamental technology was being invented, it was imperative for the growth of the new markets that standards be established prior to large-scale deployment of technology and related services. The process for development of these standards followed a traditional “waterfall” approach, which helped to harmonize (sometimes competing) prestandard technical solutions into a single standardized solution to meet market needs.

However, the maturation of the Internet as an application platform and the related rise of Internet-enabled device and service providers, especially on the Web, have helped renew a focus on innovation and differentiation. The result is a more complex market that is evolving ever faster, as we approach the future in which content and communications will be wireless and Internet-based. The future of telecom will employ a process likely to be dominated by agile development of technology and platform prototypes often in opensource, collaborative projects, which put a premium on “code first.” How can SDOs/ SSOs transform themselves to extend their influence and provide a value to the telecom industry in this radically changing world?

The IEEE defines standards as: “…documents that establish specifications and procedures designed to ensure the reliability of the materials, products, methods, and/or services people use every day. Standards address a range of issues, including but not limited to various protocols that help ensure product functionality and compatibility, facilitate interoperability and support consumer safety and public health. It is only through the use of standards that the requirements of interconnectivity and interoperability can be assured. It is only through the application of standards that the credibility of new products and new markets can be verified.”*

Standardization provides benefits to the mobile value chain in several ways. First, SDOs and the multitude of cooperation agreements among them help the industry to prevent overlap of work and therefore fragmentation within the industry. Second, SDOs/SSOs include players from across the mobile value chain, allowing insight into the entire system architecture. Without this, proprietary pieces of solutions coming from multiple vendors are unlikely to work together. Third, historical standards such as MMS or Device Management must continue to evolve as networks evolve to preserve interoperability and backward compatibility. Finally, SDOs/SSOs provide a legal and business framework that ensures fair practices in licensing, participation rights, publication processes and conflict resolution.

Clearly, SDOs/SSOs play a fundamental role in defining our complex system of reliable, interoperable mobile voice / data networks and services across the planet. As these wireless networks are evolving toward an all IP infrastructure, application developers have emerged as a new community of consumers for these standards. In the highly competitive world of application developers, where Open Source Software (OSS) is relied upon to produce the more than 1.3 million apps available on iOS alone,** the procedures and output associated with a traditional standard can be seen as archaic and slow to market.

The working styles of the standards communities and the developer communities are vastly different. The standards community is typically working to define a solution to a relatively complex problem in a way that creates a permanent solution that helps to ensure integrity and interoperability in the network or service layer. When the work is complete, SDOs/SSOs typically produce a specification, often in PDF, that is published for the industry at large to absorb and adhere to when developing their products or services.

Application developers are concerned with creating applications that take advantage of these standards. They work with socially connected tools that allow for co-opting, adapting, and republishing their work and the work of others. Performance of the network layer is taken for granted. The vitality of the entire mobile ecosystem demands that the standards development community and the application developer community bridge the gap in work practices and deliverables to ensure efficiency and interoperability across the mobile value chain.

So the question remains how SDOs/SSOs can adapt such that they better enable the application developer to take advantage of the standards they produce. There are a growing number of individuals in the SDO/ SSO community that believe that standards development processes and the output of SDOs can and must evolve to meet the needs of the new mobile ecosystem including app developers. New initiatives from SDOs/ SSOs seeking to engage the developer community include tools such as a client/ server emulator, an editor to create profile data, GitHub code and specifications repositories, real world examples of how to use standards, sandbox servers for testing implementations, user communities and listings of open source projects based on standards.

As the mobile value chain evolves toward all IP networks and a business model that includes the application developer community, SDOs/SSOs must evolve to include them, as well. Additionally, the open source movement becomes a potential source of contributions to standardization.

SDOs/SSOs must enable the application developer community with tools that allow them to take advantage of the specifications they produce. A mobile services ecosystem that incorporates the innovation and creativity common to developers with the safeguards and interoperability inherent in standards development brings benefit to the entire value chain. The telecom-related SDOs that will thrive as the next generation of networks and services are defined and deployed are the SDOs/SSOs who will embrace and address the needs of the developer community.

*What are Standards? Why are They Important? By Admin in Inside the IEEE-SA, Standards at Work 10/03/2011