What do you know about industry groups that develop technology standards?
Although many people know the names, most confuse them or are think that they are all the same. In fact there are different kinds of groups out there and they have very different goals. HomePNA, for example, has both an internationally recognized standard for existing-wire home networking and a special interest group (SIG) behind it. What’s the difference you ask and why should you care?
A standards organization typically works under a government body. A couple you are probably familiar with are the IEEE which develops 802.11 WiFi wireless LAN standards and the ITU which develops DSL standards (so you can rest easy knowing that the equipment you bought last week or got from your Telco is based on real and open standards).
Standards usually involve a large number of industry players that work until they reach consensus. The process is open to any interested company and sometimes to individuals and universities as well. Anyone can get access to the final standards and the organizations usually require companies to disclose if they own “essential” patents for the technology and to license them (or state they won’t) under reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND) conditions.
SIGs are a newer and different animal. SIGs are typically formed by a group of companies with a common interest. For example, a SIG is often formed to quickly develop a technical “specification” (as opposed to a standard) based on a company’s product. Sometimes, as with HomePNA and WiFi, there are both a standard and a SIG supporting the technology. SIGs usually have levels of membership, each with its own obligations and privileges, which are set by the SIG founders.
You may be familiar with SIGs such as WiFi, HomePNA , HomePLUG and MOCA. These groups can function very differently from standards organizations and also focus on promoting the technology through PR and testing (when you see the WiFi logo you know the product has passed WiFi’s tests).
A company may join a SIG to get the final specifications, work on new specifications, have the product tested, use the SIG’s logo, or be listed on the SIG’s webpage. These benefits usually require membership but all members don’t share equally in the benefits and the controlling companies can always change the rules. SIGs own the specifications and often require members to license essential patents (however the conditions vary greatly).
So why is it important that HomePNA is both a standard and a SIG?
After HomePNA develops technology specifications the members standardize them under the ITU thus providing stability and open access to the technology -- no matter what the contributing companies may decide or do in the future. At the same time, membership in the SIG allows companies to participate in other SIG activities such as PR, product certification and to use the logo.