Mobile standardization headache could stall the future

Operator and vendor frustration with the European mobile standardization environment seems to be coming to a head.

Two days spent at ETSI’s Business Innovation Summit in Brussels this month was enough to convince anyone of the scale of the problem. The multiplicity of standardization bodies involved as well as the fragmented nature of standardization processes is already a problem but it could get a lot worse with the increasing need to cooperate with vertical sectors such as transport and healthcare.

The summit brought together senior representatives from ETSI and the European Commission as well as from major operators, vendors and other regulatory organizations to discuss “the wireless network of the future” but the single issue that cropped up time and time again was the frustration felt by operators and vendors at having to deal with multiple standardization bodies and the lack of harmonization between these bodies.

Some of the participants had hopes that the Expert Panel for the Review of the European Standardization System (EXPRESS) set up by the European Commission to examine European standardization issues might – once it delivers its report in January – help stimulate EC action on this front. Yet others suggested that the report was likely to be less radical than originally hoped.

But clearly there is a great deal of frustration with the way things currently work. Representatives from Orange and Vodafone both separately suggested that mobile operators shouldn’t have to deal with more than ten standardization bodies on a regular basis. Some of this frustration clearly stems from having to spread scarce resource around in a difficult economic environment but it’s also as much to do with concern over the lack of harmonization between multiple organizations.

Which ten organizations the operators had in mind was difficult to pin down. But you could hazard a guess that they might be thinking of some of the prominent organizations such as the GSMA, 3GPP, OMA, ETSI, CEN and CENELEC.

Mind you even ten organizations might be an ambitious target given the large number of standardization bodies that operators, handset vendors, network vendors and IT players currently have to work with on a regular basis.

Orange is in the process of reducing the number of standardization bodies it actively deals with. This was 90 not so long ago but by next year the operator hopes to only be dealing with 70 according to Philippe Lucas, vice president of international standards and industry relationships. It may not be possible to reduce the number of organizations that actually exist but Orange is determined to concentrate effective work on a smaller number of organizations and is concentrating its resource on the work being done by those it regards as top tier organizations.

According to Lucas the standardization landscape is too fragmented to be able to transform technology and innovation into successful products.

Some of the vendor representatives at the conference also agreed that the mobile sector may not lack for organizations or funding but clearly does lack for coordination. Too much work is still being duplicated between organizations.

Magnus Madfors, director of R&D policy at Ericsson and Mike Short, vice president of R&D at O2 both also raised the issue of harmonization with other vertical sectors.

The delays and problems being caused by the lack of harmonization between telecoms sector standardization bodies will be compounded by the increasing need to work with bodies regulating other vertical sectors such as transport, energy and healthcare.

According to Mike Short there are serious concerns about the disconnect between 3GPP and ETSI activity and demands from transport, healthcare and other vertical sectors especially in the applications layer. Operators can bridge some of the gaps themselves but they also want to see some kind of lead from major organizations to help build bridges between standards and specialist sector bodies. For example if progress is to be made on telematics front the car industry expects a coherent view from the wireless industry and not half a dozen solutions from half a dozen different organizations. The same goes for other areas such as smart metering.

In Europe at least you might expect the European Commission to take a lead in getting standardization bodies to work more closely together. But of course it’s particularly difficult for the EC to take a lead at this particular moment during what is a transition period, not to mention the fact that the EC itself is organized along lines that don’t necessarily reflect an increasingly converging market.

There have been plenty of suggestions that it might make sense to change the way responsibility for various activities are divided up. Ken Ducatel, head of unit, Lisbon strategy and i2010 at DG Information Society, when asked about this at the conference sidestepped the issue by saying that DG Information Society already works closely DG Enterprise and that he saw no need for major changes.

But change is coming and will need to come if regulatory and standardization bodies are to keep pace with structural transformation in both the mobile industry and the vertical sectors it is increasingly expected to enable.

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One comment

  1. Avatar iPhone App Developer 17/11/2009 @ 3:22 pm

    Having read the article may I offer an alternative title:
    Mobile standardization – the future is stalled.
    It’s time for a culling of standardisation bodies… if they’re not culled now they’ll all suffer a slow and painful death!

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