Why are standards of value in networks such as 5G?

| Paul Nikolich

The primary function of a network is to connect endpoints and allow information to flow between them. These endpoints can be humans or devices such as phones, tablets, sensors, automobiles, robots, drones, buildings, factories, etc. Ultimately, the number and type of endpoints are too numerous to list. Yet “the network” must connect them all, small and large, in a secure, reliable, consistent, and cost-effective manner. As a result, networks have grown into highly complicated systems that not only shuttle information around but also have the capability to monitor network health, automatically repair faults, measure usage, control access, and generate bills.

Today, these networks are assembled from a wide variety of components consisting of hardware and software elements that channel information along wireline cables and wireless channels. The functionality and interfaces of each component must be very well defined and specified in order to allow cabling suppliers, chip vendors, system vendors, network engineers, and communications service providers to interconnect them in a predictable and reliable manner. These specifications can be proprietary/custom or open/standard.

Furthermore, these components are sourced from a wide variety of suppliers that most likely do not have any formal interaction with one another. Yet these networks, built from an incredible array of components sourced from thousands of suppliers, work well and provide a high quality of service to their end users. How is this possible? It is because a rich library of performance and interface standards have been developed over the decades. These standards, which are agreed upon by the many standards development participants, are one of the primary reasons these networks operate so well. Networks will always be dependent on well-defined standards, whether they are created internally via a propriety process or cooperatively via an open, transparent and consensus process.

The open transparent and consensus process practiced by the IEEE 802 Local Area Network (LAN) / Metropolitan Area Network (MAN ) Standards Committee has proven to be a successful model, as demonstrated by the economical delivery of Internet services worldwide based on components conforming to the specifications defined by the collection of IEEE 802 standards. The IEEE 802 family of standards is but one of many that have been developed by similar standard development organizations such as the International Engineering Task Force (IETF), CableLabs, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI) – 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).

These standards enable networks to grow, and this growth creates marketplace volume efficiencies. These efficiencies result in lower costs, which encourage more use of the network, which enables new uses that may not have been economically viable in the past. This in turn drives the network service provider to further grow the network, resulting in the virtuous cycle we find ourselves in today. 5G is a buzzword that I don’t care for much, but it has come to reflect that at a very high, gross level, networks are entering their next generation of growth. This growth has been partially but significantly fueled by the standards used to build almost every component, standards that networks conform to.

That’s the value standards bring to 5G.

Paul Nikolich has been serving the data communications and broadband industries for roughly 17 years, developing technology, standards, and intellectual property and establishing new ventures as an executive consultant and angel investor. He is an IEEE Fellow and has served as Chairman of the IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee since 2001. As 802 chairman, he provides oversight for 75 active 802 standards and the 50+ concurrent 802 activities in wired and wireless communications networking. 802 has over 750 active members and manages relationships between IEEE 802 and global/regional standards bodies such as ISO, ITU, and ETSI, regulatory bodies, and industry alliances. He is a member of the IEEE Computer Society Standards Activities Board and is an active leader in IEEE, the IEEE Computer Society, and the IEEE Standards Association.

He is a partner in YAS Broadband Friends, LLC, and holds several patents. He serves on the boards of directors and technology advisory boards of companies developing emerging communications technology along with being a board member of the University of New Hampshire’s Broadband Center of Excellence. Mr. Nikolich has held technical leadership positions at large and small networking and technology companies (e.g., Broadband Access Systems, Racal-Datacom, Applitek, Motorola, and Analogic). In 1978–1979, he received a B.S. in electrical engineering, a B.S. in biology, and an M.S. in biomedical engineering from Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, NY, USA (now the NYU Tandon School of Engineering).