Network complexity drives need for unified standards

Both carriers and vendors attending the Canadian Telecom Summit say the industry needs increased cooperation and standardized services to deal with an increasingly complex networking environment.

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I don’t know how many telecom industry groups it takes to screw in a light bulb, but it apparently takes more than one to come up with technical standards for ‘smart’ bulbs.

One industry body, the Connected Lighting Alliance, has endorsed the Zigbee Light Link standard as “the preferred standard for residential lighting applications” when it comes to Internet of Things light fixtures.

Yet another body, the IoT-Ready Alliance, has released its own specs for sockets allowing “any type of IoT sensor or control module to connect seamlessly to a luminaire or other building system.”

That’s just for IoT lighting. When you wade into the world of standardized specifications for telecom networks, the weeds get even thicker. The issue came up several times at the Canadian Telecom Summit, held in Toronto earlier this month, during a panel discussion featuring carriers and vendors from the U.S. and Canada.

Coping with complexity

When asked how the industry should cope with increasing network complexity, panelist Kavi Pelpola replied, “very quickly we need to move away from bespoke towards standardized services.”

Pelpola, CTO for telecom at DXC Technology, reiterated that take when the panel was asked about network slicing, saying “we’re some way away from having global standards” for provisioning network slicing across various providers.

Another panelist said the lack of unified technical standards means there’s a need for lots of integration and customization, but “you really need to harmonize and standardize, otherwise the journey is going to be slow. So I would call for more industry cooperation.”

Competing standards

Fortunately, there are already groups devoted to such things — several, in fact. For telecom specs and standards overall, there’s GSMA, 3GPP, 3GPP2, Open Mobile Alliance, Multi Service Forum, European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and the International Telecommunication Union.

There are even more cooks in the kitchen when you look at industry bodies involved in standardizing a specific piece of the telecom network puzzle. For example, there are more than 135 organizations involved in developing specs and best practices just for NFV and SDN.

Is it all getting to be a bit OTT? (Yes, that’s telecom humour.)

“In the computer industry, new standards can be the source of enormous wealth or the death of corporate empires. With so much at stake, standards arouse violent passions,” The Economist presciently noted 25 years ago.

Open source alternatives

What about open source? It’s often viewed as an alternative path toward greater standardization and interoperability.

Well, the Linux Foundation (LF) has forged partnerships with ETSI and the Open Compute Project to work more closely on open source software and hardware for telecom networking.

As noted by the IEEE (which is, itself, a standards body), there are now more than 20 open source networking initiatives on the go at LF, with all 10 of the biggest network equipment vendors involved.

A recent IEEE blog post, however, pointed out that open source isn’t exactly smooth sailing either: While open source software and hardware for networking is advancing rapidly, “open networking via SDN, NFV, SD-WAN is really a euphemism for closed networking.” That’s because almost all are proprietary to either the service provider or SD-WAN vendor.

“It should be duly noted,” the IEEE post continues, “that there are no official standards bodies working on open networking specifications to provide multi-vendor interoperability of exposed interfaces or even APIs within a single piece of equipment.”

Open versus closed

It’s a complex issue, but Andreas Hegers, head of corporate marketing at Israeli firm ECI Telecom, boiled it down on SDXcentral.

“There are hundreds of different (open source) projects and standardization bodies, some of which are working on alternate solutions to the same issues,” Hegers wrote. “There is still a need to accept ‘closed’ modules so vendors can protect the value of their work … (yet) vendors across the industry need to realize that open source projects are not created … specifically for their needs.”

Getting disparate parts of the network to ‘work’ well together is tough. Getting the people and organizations behind those moving parts to also work together can be even tougher.

Image: themacx/iStock

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