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As our cover this month depicts,

the standards process can be likened to a game of Snakes and Ladders -- an ordered series of steps that continually threatens to stall, slide or send players back a few moves. But is the complicated a...


May 1, 2001  


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the standards process can be likened to a game of Snakes and Ladders — an ordered series of steps that continually threatens to stall, slide or send players back a few moves. But is the complicated and lengthy standards process, complicated and lengthy for good reason? Or is it unnecessarily clogged with politics and nonessential stumbling blocks?

Some argue that the whole process is unfair, due to the high percentage of manufacturers involved who pay to have their say, and come armed with their own agendas. In fact, Mark Maloney, who sits on the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) TR-42 committee, admits that these sessions sometimes appear to be hindered by self-serving interests, which can cause delays in the process.

Others argue that those involved are there to benefit the industry as best they can — in other words, it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it. And, let’s face it, those on the committees do have a fairly thankless task on their hands. While there are benefits to being involved, these people do not get paid and they do commit a good deal of their time. And there are some very dedicated people on these committees, who are working hard to reach a broad consensus that will better serve the industry at large.

Paul Kish, Chair of the TIA-42 engineering committee, says that the timeline of the process is more often drawn out by the many complicated technical issues that have to be addressed (many of which require lab testing) than the political agendas of those involved.

Of course you also have to factor in the time it takes to get through the myriad of authorizations and discussions, votes and approvals. Phone calls. E-mails. Memos. Even if things run smoothly, the process takes about 12 months. In other cases — as with the ongoing Category 6 standard — it can take years. But alas, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

According to Mr. Kish, the process “could carry on forever” in an attempt to address all of the technical issues, so they try to address the essential ones — and then publish additional work as future addendums.

This speeds things up some. In addition, the TIA is currently working on ways to help quicken the process further, says Mr. Maloney. One way they are doing this is by looking at models used at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which seem to move things along more quickly there. Yet while this may help accelerate things, it will not do anything to quell the critics’ complaints that the process is biased and does not best represent users’ needs.

So what is the solution? How could the whole process be more equitable? According to Mr. Maloney, in an “ideal world”, all participants would “forget who they work for when they walk through the door and put business agendas second.”

But, as we all know, it is not a perfect world. Nor is it likely to be any time soon. So, if you have a beef about the standards process, it could be time to stop moaning and get involved. For, as Mr. Maloney says, in spite of it all it is worthwhile participating, as you get to learn a great deal, and work with a variety of talented people.

And hey, it’s a democratic process — one to which anyone is invited to play a role. More (and more varied) participation might be what these committees need to ensure everyone’s voice is heard.


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