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Standardization Needs Room for Innovation

Mitch Wagner

AUSTIN, Texas -- Big Communications Event -- Carriers are pushing the limits of network standardization, but they need to be sure to avoid standardizing too soon and stifling innovation.

"Extensibility is where the magic happens," Pascal Menezes, MEF chief technology officer, said on a panel here Tuesday.

Extensibility means standardizing APIs but leaving room to add more information. For example, the industry might standardize APIs for "get account," which retrieves financial information and permissions, but later find that it makes sense to also retrieve social relationships -- the user's connections on social networks. "You need to be sure when you're defining the base you leave room for additional components," Menezes said.

Carriers embracing standards need to be sure they're not smothering innovation.
Carriers embracing standards need to be sure they're not smothering innovation.

"There's a lot going on. Standardization tends to freeze things," said Dr. Ron Marquardt, Sprint vice president of technology. For example, a year and a half ago, OpenStack proliferated on the cloud, while containers where just emerging. If the industry had formally standardized on OpenStack, it would have missed out on innovation.

Victoria Lonker, Verizon executive director for network and virtual solutions, agreed. "We don't want to stifle that innovation, and the ability for different companies to offer different solutions that are differentiated for different customer needs," she said.

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Standards are maturing in connectivity, but standardized services via network functions virtualization (NFV) are further away, said Andrew Dugan, Level 3 Communications chief technology officer.

Open source and formal standards will complement each other, panelists said. The standards process is slow and open source can help inform it, Marquardt said. The industry went from a heavy standards focus, to all open source, and back to the middle, Menezes said.

Carriers face a challenge when mixing intellectual property with standards and open source. In the US at least, it's difficult to patent software, so it's hard for service providers to share their own intellectual property and maintain competitive advantage, Lonker said. "We're developing our own IP. How do you take that IP and share it but keep it in house so it doesn't hurt your right to get to market quickly?" she asked.

To watch the full panel discussion, click on the video below:

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User Rank: Light Sabre
5/18/2017 | 1:49:57 PM
Re: Standards don't necessarily impede innovation

I agree with your points about innovation and strategic nature.  Just so we are clear the following are available Open Source:  Ethernet Switches, IP Routers, Class 5 Switches, IP PBXes...want me to keep going?  Cuz that ain't where the innovation is....


User Rank: Light Sabre
5/18/2017 | 1:48:14 PM
Re: Standards don't necessarily impede innovation

I agree with the 2nd paragraph but want to add to it and then add something completely different.

The problem is that the Service Providers want huge investments in R&D to create commodities.  It is not working to create vendors that are sustainable.  That is what they last 15 or so years have been about.  The problem is that the vendors buy into it.  Think about how many times we heard about trends and technologies here with lots of vendor and provider support.  And about 10% of them become real.  I could create a litany of buzzwords that came and went. 

The real problem (and I go back to a Drew Lanza post here circa 2001 or so) is that innovation has exited this business.  By that, I mean the communications business.  All the innovation is in software applications running across a homogenous Internet.  Yes, there are smaller bits of the business that still exist and have roles.  But by and large that is the growning and valuable part of the business. 

All of this efforts is a continuation on the strategy at the service provider level to upcharge bits per second.  It is a failed effort and vendors that design to it die.   Service providers will keep pushing on this front because IT COSTS THEM NOTHING.  They spend pennies driving vendors insane to make things that are never deployed.

I asked a question to Steve Saunders in another thread.  How will  NFV allow vendors to raise prices and if not prices then profits?  In the current direction they can't.   So, why bother?


User Rank: Light Sabre
5/18/2017 | 10:12:26 AM
Re: Standards don't necessarily impede innovation
I've fought my share of "in scope" versus "out of scope" battles. Some of them are grounded in patents, some in egos, and many in both. There are ways to get people's pet text into a standard without being part of the standard.

As far as open source and innovation... it's complicated. In our space, I see it as  part of game of strategy between vendors (who are incented to differentiate their products) and operators (who are incented to commoditize platforms upon which they can build differentiated services). With industry consolidation, the latter have market power to push the industry into a commoditized direction, using open source as a lever*. Differentiation and commoditization are fundamental opposites, and innovation is driven by differentiation. I wouldn't expect a lot of innovation to come from white box vendors.

* Except insofar as Apache licenses don't require derivative works to be released as open source.

Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
5/18/2017 | 8:07:19 AM
Re: Standards don't necessarily impede innovation
Figuring out what should be included in the bare minimum standard is one of the most difficult parts of the process, and essential to the standard working. 

As for open source impeding innovation -- you've identified a strength of open source, rather than a weakness. Open source is designed to be used in areas that are nonstrategic to users, where innovation doesn't matter. If innovation actually matters in a particular area, then open source is a bad choice, and the company that eschews open source will gain a competitive advantage. 
User Rank: Blogger
5/18/2017 | 12:45:21 AM
Re: Standards don't necessarily impede innovation
"Why would a for-profit business invent a better algorithm when the one that's in the Open Source code is good enough, especially when the license terms require that it be shared?" Open source is contributed to by individuals, often behind the back of the organisation they work for. Why do they do this? Kudos mainly, I think.
User Rank: Light Sabre
5/17/2017 | 2:46:35 PM
Standards don't necessarily impede innovation
The balance between standardization and innovation has long been captured by the notion of de minimus standardization: writing (at least the normative parts of) a standard to cover only that which is needed to meet the standard's objective, not how to implement it. For example, in a standard intended to promote interoperability between VNFs and Orchestrators, APIs should obviously be standardized; any algorithm that is distributed between them has to be standardized; any functions that one expects of the other should be standardized; purely internal algorithms should not be standardized.  If the architecture is done right (loose coupling/tight cohesion) almost all of the innovation ends up outside the standards.

De minimus standardization dovetails with the notions of "essential" and "non-essential" IPR.  By standardizing only what is necessary, the amount of essential IPR is minimized. Essential IPR in standards leads to fist fights (sometimes literally - punches have been thrown), and triggers the standards committee's "Reasonable and Nondiscriminatory License" patent policy, which often still leads to litigation. Of course, license fees burden implementors and customers. The good thing about non-essential patents (if you happen to own them) is that you can enforce them.

Open Source muddies those waters.  What they do, in effect, is standardize the implementation.  True, the Open Source model doesn't encourage patent issues. For the same reasons, it does not encourage innovation. Why would a for-profit business invent a better algorithm when the one that's in the Open Source code is good enough, especially when the license terms require that it be shared?
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