There's another standards war story that's been running in the news over the past few days that has an eerie sense of familiarity. It goes like this: Two camps can't agree on a standard that is being developed within an existing, well-respected standards body. Eventually one camp takes its effort to Ecma International for approval and fast tracking to an international standard in order to outflank the first standards organization, and to thwart the success of the other camp. Now where have I heard something like that before?
There’s another standards war story that’s been running in the news over the past few days that has an eerie sense of familiarity. It goes like this: Two camps can’t agree on a standard that is being developed within an existing, well-respected standards body. Eventually one camp takes its effort to Ecma International for approval and fast tracking to an international standard in order to outflank the first standards organization, and to thwart the success of the other camp. Now where have I heard something like that before?
Besides being coincidental, the story illustrates yet again how high the stakes can be in standards battles, the degree of strategy and alliance building that is employed by the combatants, and the lack of coherence in the global standard setting infrastructure that allows this type of “forum shopping” to persist, permitting one faction to end-run another rather than work harder to arrive at a single, universally supported standard that would be more beneficial to the end user.
This isn’t a story that I’ve been following, or have any special insight into, so I’ll try and pull together without comment what appears to be the story.
As reported in the EETimes, two camps arrived at a deadlock within an IEEE task group formed to develop an ultrawideband (UWB) standard. Intel, HP, Microsoft, Philips, Sony, Texas Instruments and Samsung are prominent members of one camp, which is supported by the Wi-Media Alliance, a consortium with a very large membership that is independent of the IEEE, but promotes standards that emerge from the IEEE technical process, as well as specifications that it creates. Critically, it also provides certification tests for wireless products.
The other camp also has its own support group, called the UWB Forum, and also has a large and varied membership, including Motorola and Freescale, the Motorola spinout.
As reported at WiFi Planet, here’s how things evolved:
[The IEEE 802.15 Task Group 3a] was charged with creating the standard for a high data rate wireless personal area network (WPAN) technology called ultrawideband (UWB). A split formed in early 2004 when the MBOA Group (which later merged with WiMedia) left the table, blaming Motorola for preventing MBOA from getting the 75 percent vote needed to become the standard. Motorola and its offshoot Freescale Semiconductor formed the UWB Forum, whose members prefer the technology approach called Direct Sequence-UWB (DS-UWB). The two groups have been at odds ever since.
Going with Ecma instead of IEEE gives WiMedia an international standard — it just happens to have a headquarters in Europe instead of the United States….Perhaps it helps that Freescale does not belong, though WiMedia is quick to point out that Freescale could have joined Ecma at any time and has been well aware of what WiMedia was working toward….
That doesn’t mean IEEE isn’t looking at high-speed WPANs anymore, but at the January IEEE meeting, [Wi-Media President and Intel employee Stephen] Wood says, WiMedia members will seek to terminate the work of the 802.15.3a group. If the members can get a 75 percent supermajority vote for the withdrawal of the task group’s PAR — the Project Authorization Request — then all work there would be done.
If they don’t get the vote, it’s unknown what would happen, but it’s likely that the UWB Forum and WiMedia would keep things deadlocked for an indeterminate amount of time, just as they have for the last two years….
Does this do away with the fight for UWB mindshare? Wood thinks it should, especially because he believes the term “ultrawideband” shouldn’t be used at all. “From a consumer perspective, we hope ‘ultrawideband’ is never heard,” says Wood. “We expect ‘Bluetooth’ and ‘Wireless USB’ to be heard, but not UWB. That should play only at the silicon and manufacturer level.”
Hardball? Absolutely. Standards battles can bear enormous stakes, with literally billions of dollars up for grabs. The process is frequently not pretty, the motivations are never philanthropic, and spin is the norm rather than the exception. What someone says and what someone is doing are often not congruent.
Something good to keep in mind, whatever universe you happen to find yourself in.
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