By Richard Nesin, president, HomePNA
I just returned from my first IEEE P1901 meeting. If you follow home networking (and who doesn’t?) you probably recognize the IEEE as the group that developed and continues to evolve the Wi-Fi 802.11 and Ethernet 802.3 standards. They do a lot of other things and some of those things are being done in P1901. The P1901 group was formed a couple of years ago to standardize networking over powerlines. The group started with three non-compatible industry technologies: HomePlug, UPA and HD-PLC. According to the project authorization request or “PAR” approved by the IEEE, P1901 is working on a standard to enable coexistence and interoperability over powerlines for both home networking and broadband over powerline (BPL) applications.
The meeting was well attended with representatives of over 40 “entities” present. I counted at least one copy of Robert’s Rules of Order for every three attendees; a very respectable ratio. (An exaggeration but not far from the truth). The meeting was very formal and Robert’s Rules were quoted frequently. There were several conflicting agendas being pursued and a good deal of the meeting was spent discussing what motions were and were not allowed. Almost all of the technical work seems to have been done behind the scenes. Having attended G.hn meetings, where most of the time is spent presenting and discussing technical contributions, this surprised me.
I was also struck by the very different policies and procedures followed by the IEEE P1901 and ITU-T G.hn – or for that matter between P1901 and other IEEE groups. Unlike some IEEE groups, P1901 only allows one vote per entity (which is a good thing). An entity can be a company, industry SIG, university, etc. As discussed back in the March blog about the differences between Special Interest Groups or SIGs and standards organizations like the ITU-T and IEEE, SIGs are usually run by the “privileged” members. Allowing SIGs equal voting rights can provide companies or groups of companies with additional influence on votes potentially making the process more political. The ITU-T is more selective and doesn’t allow SIGs to be members. Now that you know more than you ever wanted to know about entities, we’ll just call them members.
Members must join the P1901 group and attend a number of meetings to be entitled to vote (they lose voting privileges if they miss too many consecutive meetings). It’s not possible for a company to send a lot of employees to a given meeting to force through a favorite motion (although I’ve seen this done in other IEEE groups operating under different rules).
As far as the work itself, it’s taken a while and will take a while longer. The current voting isn’t on a draft standard, it’s on three individual “clusters”; one for home networking called “IH” for in home, one for BPL called access and one for coexistence called coexistence. The clusters must each be approved by over 75% of the groups members. They will then be combined into one working document that follows the IEEE style rules and voted on again. After 75% of the members approve, the document will be considered mature enough to be a draft standard. Another 75% vote will put the draft before the sponsor (ie the IEEE Communication Society) where it will undergo an new iterative review and approval voting process by that group per their own policies and procedures to make sure it meets the PAR objectives and IEEE requirements before it is released as a standard. As you know if you have been following this blog, ITU-T is a consensus process. When a draft standard achieves consensus, it is released.
Two standards groups, two very different operating modes.