A healthy, functional telecom network requires a certain degree of standardization to ensure that all components are compatible and that services from different vendors work perfectly, but there is such a thing as too much standardization, where the pursuit for greater interoperability and uniformity results in network infrastructure and software rigidity.
When telecom companies allow their attachment to certain standards to dictate the development and evolution of their network infrastructure, software and integration, they put themselves in a position that can stifle innovation. Carriers and service providers should take a more open-minded approach to the issue of standards, and finding the right balance between strict standardization and open source experimentation could lead to further telecom developments. One can only standardize those things which already exist. So if we insist on following established standards, we cannot possibly be innovative. We must, therefore, find a healthy balance between forward-thinking innovation and standardization.
If everyone moves holistically to pre-defined standards, how do we differentiate ourselves in innovative ways? How do we avoid being commoditized? Telecoms risk complete commoditization if everything is standardized within the industry.
Standards are good … to a point
Adhering to some standardization is certainly a good thing for the telecom industry. Take, for instance, the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) and MEF 3.0 Transformational Global Services Framework. We welcome MEF 59 and 60 within the LSO (Lifecycle Service Orchestration) Reference Architecture. This global industry alliance has led the charge to implement standardized, carrier-class telecom service, successfully bringing together various big-name vendors like Cisco and Ericsson along with major carriers such as Verizon and AT&T.
“Telecom companies shouldn’t get so hung up on specific standards.”
Without any standards at all, service quality would likely suffer, as networks could conceivably be cobbled together from disparate organizations using different technology. It’s no wonder then that telecom vendors make standardization a major priority for any new investment or technological expansion, but how do you differentiate your products and services if everything is standardized.
Telecom companies shouldn’t get so hung up on specific standards that they lose sight of the bigger picture. If an opportunity arises to build out new, innovative services, it’s important that telcos give it strong consideration, even if it doesn’t completely align with desired standardization practices.
How over-standardization prevents innovation
The most cutting-edge telecom innovations may not always adhere completely to standards like those endorsed by the MEF. Although certain ones can be beneficial and informative early on in the development of new telecom technology, eventually they could become more of a hindrance – stifling innovation, than a benefit. Standardization makes our jobs as integrators easier and more repeatable, but we want to move telcos forward into the future beyond that which has been standardized.
The industry has already seen this situation play out with network function virtualization. As Pipeline’s Michael Brenner noted, ETSI NFV standards were initially a boon for telecom companies interested in deploying this technology, establishing a clear path for implementation. However, by quickly adopting this particular set of standards, the industry prevented other, potentially better options from rising up to challenge ETSI NFV’s ubiquity. Businesses benefit from the immediate impact of NFV, but are unable to fully explore the technology’s total range of capabilities.
In effect, by requiring they follow specific standards at all times, telecom companies are boxing themselves in and standing in the way of further innovation and differentiation.
What’s the right amount of standardization?
Clearly, standards are necessary to maintain a baseline level of service quality, network and software interoperability, and end-to-end automation, but where should the telecom industry draw the line at too much standardization?
The key is to know and understand existing standards, but to view standards less as ironclad rules that must be adhered to at all times and more as general guideposts to follow as needed. It’s a delicate balance to be sure, but the telecom industry would be in a much better position to pursue innovation and digital transformation if it could loosen the grip of standardization.
When businesses set aside their dedication to telecom standards, they’ll find more opportunities to develop innovative services that open up new revenue streams and create an incredible competitive advantage. Should you follow standards? Absolutely, but don’t let them define your network or your software.