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Standards

January 2nd, 2008

“…the funny rule about IETF RFCs (Internet Engineering Task Force Request for Comments) is that if you wait long enough just about every one will eventually be required”

Robert X. Cringely, from “The Once and Future King” [pbs.org].

I like this quote because I’m a fan of the IETF [ietf.org] and the work it has and is doing in standards.

I became a standards geek a few years back while working on a system for MMS [wikipedia.org] (more commonly known as picture messaging,) interoperability. In the course of working on this system I read a number or standards from various standards groups; the 3GPP, the 3GPP2, the ETSI, the OMA and the IETF among others. Invariably the common feature of the standards produced by the telephony standards bodies was their complexity. Nearly all the documents of the 3GPP, the 3GPP2, the ETSI and the OMA i read felt like the classic standard by committee. It was easy to read many different agendas into the various parts of the standards. I remember one line in a 3GPP standard that basically said; ‘this is the standard, but if you agree on something else you can use that too.’

The juxtaposition of these telephony standards with the IETF documents is amazing. Very few of the IETF docs run to more then a few dozen pages and each document deals with a single thing rather than trying to define the entire world. Given that IETF (and other standards docs) have their own language I won’t try to suggest that one will understand an IETF doc on first reading it but I do think that a person totally unfamiliar with the standards world would more quickly come to understand the standard in an IEFT doc than in any of the other standards bodies various documents.

The telephony world no doubt makes money but is today moving toward the same models that underly the Internet and it is the IETF who designed and defined the Internet’s protocols and functions. I think the success of the Internet speaks a lot about the quality of the work the IEFT does in standards. As Cringely says, sometimes they are years ahead of the rest of the world but it’s good to know that someone is thinking that far ahead.

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