How different is open source from the traditional telecom standards process?
One person with intimate knowledge of those key differences is Heather Kirksey, director of NFV for the Open Platform for NFV Project Inc. , the Linux Foundation -backed open source effort. As someone directly involved in developing a recent and enduring telecom standard, TR-69, Kirksey has seen firsthand how both processes work and knows why open source is faster, as the result of a different kind of cooperation.
From her perspective, open source development speeds things up because it helps avoid company politics in reaching decisions and is specifically well-suited to a telecom world in which functionality moves out of hardware into software.
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In comparing Kirksey's two standards experiences, a short history lesson is in order. TR-69 was developed shortly after the turn of the century and continually updated through the 2000s to solve a critical problem for broadband ISPs: the need to manage and monitor in-home devices including modems and gateways. This is a capability we now take for granted, but in the early days of DSL and cable modems, broadband ISPs were plagued by the inability to quickly discover what was causing a customer problem. Often the broadband line itself was fine, but there was an issue with the modem, or its connection to a PC, or the computer itself that couldn't be remotely detected.
The result was a massive customer service headache that initially slowed broadband adoption and drove up deployment costs significantly. With each customer added, there were time-consuming and costly issues around installation, maintenance and upgrades for CPE that led to thousands of hours of customer service calls and wasted truck rolls and many angry and frustrated customers.
This process was also killing broadband profits by driving costs up dramatically.
"The process was so manual and had to be so customized to all the different firmware versions and makes and models of devices -- it was an exponentially difficult problem," recalls Kirksey, who initially managed the CPE partner program at Broadjump, which was acquired by Motive, which was later acquired by Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU). (See Motive, BroadJump to Merge and AlcaLu Gets Motivated.)
Bleeding edge action
As someone managing CPE partnerships, Kirksey found herself at the bleeding edge of solving the issue, but she also discovered her company's service provider customers -- once-familiar names such as BellSouth and SBC Communications - weren't interested in a single company's solution to their problems but were pushing all their vendors to the Broadband Forum -- which might have still been the DSL Forum at that time -- to work out an industry solution.
If that sounds familiar, it's because it is. OPNFV is also an organization driven by network operators who need help with network management and orchestration of their network functions virtualization and want to push the NFV specs forward using open source.
Next page: Progress and pain for TR-69 group