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Is the IEEE standards process broken?

High stakes, vendor hanky-panky and rudderless, bloated committees are pushing some working groups off track. Is there a better way?

By Rob Garretson, Network World
March 05, 2007 12:08 AM ET

Network World - The vision was for mobile users -- passengers on the high-speed Acela trains between Washington and Boston, for example -- to have broadband Internet access as they zip along at 150 mph.

But the IEEE working group attempting to craft the 802.20 Mobile Broadband Wireless Access standard was itself a bloody train wreck.

After nearly four years of deliberations, the IEEE's Standard Association Executive Committee disbanded the working group, because it had become "highly contentious," showed evidence of possible vendor "dominance" and was suffering "other potential irregularities."

Why standards matter

"There were a lot of accusations of overt political behavior and misdealings," says Craig Mathias, an IEEE member and a principal with Farpoint Group, a consulting and systems-integration firm. "In this case, someone needed to step in and get everybody back on track."

A revamped working group convened in Dallas in November with a new chairman, vacancies in the other leadership posts and most of its prior decisions invalidated.

Yet the problems and ultimate reboot of the 802.20 committee was no isolated incident. It was just the most recent and dramatic example of an IEEE standards-setting process bogged down by competing commercial interests, lack of vendor-neutral participants and at times ineffective committee leadership, critics say.

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