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Behind Closed Doors

Here's a look at what goes on during the standards process.

December 1, 2000  

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When talking to clients or to the press, I am often asked about the standards process and how it works.

I have dedicated close to ten years working on standards development within the TIA (Telecommunications Industry Association), and it has been an enriching and rewarding experience. The biggest reward is seeing the fruit of one’s labours and sharing that joy with the members of the team, for really it takes hard work and cooperation to make it all happen.

To be successful, a standard requires the following:

1)fulfilment of a need in the industry;

2)a clear set of objectives;

3)champions to pull the resources together;

4)contributions from different experts in the industry;

5)openness to consider different views and options;

6)flexibility and accommodation without sacrificing objectives; and

7)a strong desire and the persistence to make it happen.


The standards process starts with a project request that is discussed and approved within the committee. The project request defines the scope of the work to be done, in addition to a clear set of objectives. A project leader is designated to manage the project. It is usually the subcommittee chair, the working group chair or a resident expert who takes on the role of “champion” for the project. After a project is complete, the end result is the publication of an industry standard, an addendum to an industry standard or a Telecommunications Systems Bulletin (TSB).

As an example of the process, let’s look at the Category 5e standard that was published as an addendum to the TIA/EIA 568-A standard. It took over two years to publish this addendum, which contains many new test procedures and requirements.

Why did it take so long? There were a number of new test requirements, such as Return Loss, that were not well understood within the industry. Return Loss performance was affected by cable design and installation variables; for example, the handling of patch cords could cause Return Loss failures in a channel. Different expert contributions were presented that explained the nature of the problem, and a mechanical stress test was developed for qualifying patch cords. A channel model was also developed to consider interaction between different components to assure that channel requirements were met in a reasonable worst-case configuration.


The various steps involved in the standards process include the preparation of a ‘strawman’ document within the committee. As the name implies, the ‘strawman’ document is one that is subject to extensive modification before it can be issued as a document that will be balloted in the industry. It contains tentative requirements that are to be determined (TBD) and missing sections that will be filled in after the work is performed. The document goes through various drafts that are reviewed within the committee, and an editor ensures that all the agreed upon changes are incorporated.

When most of the information is completed, and there is a consensus agreement in the committee (at least a two-thirds majority), the document is submitted to a formal balloting process that follows TIA rules. These rules are in accordance with ANSI (American National Standards Institute), to ensure a broad and balanced representation from the industry.

The possible votes are: ‘Approve’, ‘Approve with comments’, ‘Do not approve with comments’ and ‘No comment’. All of the comments are reviewed within the committee and the document is modified accordingly. If technical changes are required, a re-ballot of the entire document or a default ballot (if there are a limited number of technical changes) will be held. A default ballot is usually the final stage in the balloting process.

A member company that votes not to approve a document must explain the rationale behind it, and propose modifications that would change this vote from ‘Do not approve’ to ‘Approve’. Through the various stages of the ballot process, every effort is made to resolve negative ballots and reach consensus. As an illustrious colleague of mine used to say: “Consensus is reached when the shouting stops and people stop banging on tables.”


Item number seven on the list above (“a strong desire and the persistence to make it happen”) is the most important. It is well understood that the publication of an open and generic standard helps the industry as a whole, by creating a broad-based demand in the market for products that are in compliance with the standard. Until a standard is published, the end user is reluctant to commit to a proprietary solution. There is a strong incentive for a standard to be published, and this is recognized within the committee.

I encourage those in the industry to get involved and to participate in standards activities. For a list of open projects, please consult the TIA website at CS

Paul Kish is Director of IBDN Systems & Standards at NORDX/CDT in Pointe Claire, PQ. He is also Chair of the TR-42 engineering committee.

Disclaimer: The information presented is the author’s view and is not official TIA correspondence.

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