Do we need a new Bellcore?

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Dale Reed, vice president of marketing at Trompeter Electronics Inc., raised an interesting question during a conversation in his exhibit booth at last month's SuperComm. Reed believes that Bellcore 326, which is commonly used for cabling interconnections, doesn't adequately address the performance potential of fiber optics. A new specification-or at least an expansion of Bellcore 326-would be ideal. The question Reed raised is how would such a spec be developed now that Bellcore has become Telcordia Technologies and been tasked with becoming a profit center?

Telcordia, of course, remains active in the development of Generic Requirements as outlined in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. However, the creation of Generic Requirements for an entire industry isn't the same as setting specs for AT&T. Bellcore created its original specs as part of Ma Bell's normal process of doing business-and that business didn't necessarily include taking other carriers' concerns into account.

Now that no one service provider or cartel of national carriers controls the global market, a single carrier can't establish industry-wide specifications-and Telcordia won't get involved unless someone funds the effort. So how will the next generation of performance and reliability specifications be created?

The International Telecommunication Union, American National Standards Institute, European Telecommunications Standards Institute, and IEEE represent well-known international and national standards bodies that can assume some of the burden. And a host of carrier and vendor forums have assembled to address narrower concerns, from the ATM Forum to the Optical Internetworking Forum. All of these organizations do a fine job, particularly considering how much these groups demand from volunteers.

However, we've all read laments concerning how long it takes to create a standard and the seemingly unrelenting politics that attend the process. In an increasing number of cases, it appears the ultimate goal is not to come to an agreement on a commonly accepted method to accomplish a specific task, but to enshrine as many different methods as vendors can ramrod through.

Reed suggests that carriers turn to a trusted vendor or group of vendors to determine the current state of the art, then set specifications accordingly. Of course, every vendor would love to have its product line's capabilities accepted as "standard"-particularly if the vendor doesn't believe its competition can match its performance. I'm not sure this is much better than what we have now.

Wouldn't it be nice if there were some sort of truly independent body that could evaluate requirements, compare them to current capabilities, and set reliability and performance specifications with the users' best interests in mind? Wouldn't it be great if there were a new Bellcore?

Yeah, it would, but don't count on it. A lack of consensus and cries of "Let the market decide!" are the price one pays for giving innovation and entrepreneurship free reign in optical communications. It may be messy, but I don't think many would advocate turning back the clock on deregulation. I certainly wouldn't. Th Acf1183

Stephen M. Hardy
Editorial Director and
Associate Publisher
stephenh@pennwell.com

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