Open standards and the needs of the developer
Much has changed in the telecommunications industry in the years since standards development organisations (SDOs) 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 were 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 harmonise (sometimes competing) pre-standard technical solutions to market needs.
However, the maturation of the internet as an application platform and the related rise of internet-enabled devices and service providers, especially on the Web, have helped to 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 all communications will be internet-based. The future of wireless will employ a process likely to be dominated by agile development of technology and platform prototypes, often in Open Source, collaborative projects, which put a premium on ‘code first’.
Standardisation provides benefits to the mobile value chain in several ways. First, SDOs and the multitude of co-operation agreements among them help the industry to prevent overlap of work and, therefore, fragmentation within the industry.
Second, SDOs include players from across the mobile value chain, allowing insight into the entire system architecture. Without this, 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 with networks to preserve interoperability and backward compatibility, or to adapt to new network topologies including low-powered sensor networks.
Finally, SDOs provide a legal and business framework that ensures fair practice in licensing, participation rights, publication processes and conflict resolution.
New community of consumers
Clearly, SDOs 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 1.6 million apps available for Android alone (1), 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 typically produce a document, often in PDF, that is published for the industry at large to absorb and adhere to when developing their products or services.
SDOs often operate using Fair, Reasonable, and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) or Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (RAND) licensing terms to protect the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) contributed to the specifications.
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, under one of many Open Source licences that generally allow for reuse, adaptation and productisation of work on a royalty-free basis without the need to negotiate terms with each contributor or contributing company.
Developers operating in an Open Source community can find themselves caught between the Open Source licences adopted by their community or project and the FRAND/RAND-based licences required to use specifications produced by the SDOs.
Bridging the gap
In March of 2016, OMA launched an industry survey (2) to find better data about how companies and SDOs are approaching Open Source and conversely how the Open Source community views the need for interaction between SDOs and Open Source organisations.
The survey was distributed broadly across OMA’s marketing database and social media. A total of 419 individuals responded to the survey, representing more than 300 different companies, universities, governmental organisations, standards bodies and developer communities.
Overall, 80% of respondents felt that the Open Standards community would benefit from a closer relationship with the Open Source community, stating that early Open Source implementations of standards can provide important feedback and help with proliferation of a standard.
Conversely, 77% of respondents felt that the Open Source community would benefit from a closer relationship to the Open Standards community, stating that Open Standards can help Open Source projects with overall architecture and system design considerations, quality, interoperability and roadmap.
How can SDOs adapt?
So the question remains, how can SDOs adapt to better enable the application developer to take advantage of the standards they produce? There’s a growing number of individuals in the SDO community who 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 such as the Open Mobile Alliance Developers Toolkit provide tools such as a client/server emulator, an editor to create profile data, a GitHub code and specifications repository, a lab kit of examples of how to use standards, a sandbox server for testing implementations, a user community and a listing of Open Source projects based on standards.
As the wireless value chain evolves toward all-IP networks and a business model that includes the application developer community, SDOs must evolve to include them as well.
To do this, SDOs must enable the application developer community with tools that allow them to take advantage of the specifications they produce. A wireless 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 IoT-related SDOs that will thrive as the next-generation of networks
and services are defined and deployed are the SDOs that will embrace and address the needs of the developer.
2. Survey details can be found at www.openmobilealliance.org.
About the author
With over 18 years of experience in wireless industry at large technology companies such as Texas Instruments and Kyocera as well as multiple technology start-ups, Elizabeth Rose currently serves as Communications Director at the Open Mobile Alliance where she oversees all communications activities.