Mark Pilgrim, 3GPP and the IETF

I'm currently embroiled in what is likely to be one of the telco industry's most interesting paradigm shifts, and as a result I often find myself having to hold two completely opposite viewpoints in my mind and try to bridge them in some fashion.

I guess it comes with the territory. But stepping back from the main event (which is mercifully far from anything resembling last year's Blue Packet spoof) and looking at the tech involved soon makes one realize that most of today's mobile tech is a shotgun marriage between the 3GPP and the IETF, witnessed by Qualcomm and celebrated by whoever is your favorite licensee.

So, when I stumbled across Mark Pilgrim's post on why microformats work, it suddenly hit me that it was uncannily like my current take on standards.

You see, most 3GPP standards happen like this:

  1. Have an initial committee discuss 80% of the problem in a matter of months.
  2. Have an extended committee spend two years arguing about the last 20%.
  3. Have all vendors implement the 80% in a matter of months. Wonder why everything is so hard for anyone to implement.
  4. Spend years testing and arguing how to license the last 20%. Realize that portions of the first 80% weren't properly tested. Push out the product to operators, and have them curse a lot.
  5. Discover that the last 20% are what makes it all work properly, and that if it weren't for all the lobbying, they would probably have been solved properly in the first place.

IETF and de facto standards, on the other hand, have become something like this:

  1. Find someone who solved the 80% in a matter of weeks.
  2. Hire them, have them write up an RFC and leave out the other 20% as proprietary company info.
  3. Have everyone implement the 80% in a matter of days. Host an interop test event.
  4. Watch people use it for a few months. Maybe tweak a little here and there.
  5. Discover that the last 20% wasn't really necessary after all, but is patentable. Sue everyone who implemented the other 80%. Hire another intellectual property lawyer and move on to the next problem.

The thing is, both sides are looking more and more like one another. Internet protocols are becoming abominably crufty, and standard telco stuff is becoming flakier as new "features" are grafted on.

Ah well. Maybe it's just me...