ITU-T accelerates standards process


The rapidly increasing pace of technology puts pressure on standards development organizations (SDOs) to accelerate their processes. Their cycles must keep pace with shrinking product cycles in industry, if the standards are to be useful.

Until 1988, the Telecommunication Standardization Sector of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU-T) approved their Recommendations only at the end of each four-year study period. Since then, with changes in procedures, the approval time has been reduced to typically two years between 1989 and 1993, 18 months between 1993 and 1996, and nine months between 1996 and 2000-time periods that are competitive with other SDOs.

To meet the demands of industry and the market, a new fast-track procedure called the Alternative Approval Process (AAP) was approved at the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly in October 2000. Now, once an ITU-T Study Group considers a draft Recommendation sufficiently mature, it declares its "consent." Under the fast-track AAP, the time from consent to approval can be reduced to as little as 10 weeks. Much of this improved efficiency in the process of developing and approving Recommendations has been achieved through electronic document-handling practices such as postings on Websites, the use of file transfer protocol programs, and e-mail for dialogue.

2001 was the first year of operation for the new AAP procedure, and the results are now in. More than 100 Recommendations were approved under AAP, with 78% taking less than 12 weeks and 59% taking less than eight weeks. More than 90% of ITU-T's new Recommendations are now handled through AAP, including, for example, the new Recommendations supporting the Optical Transport Network (see Lightwave, February 2002, p. 34).

Other SDOs are also finding ways to speed up their standards-writing process. The International Electrotechnical Commission, for instance, has new fast track procedures such as the Publicly Available Standard.

The proliferation of these fast track procedures places new importance on rapid communication between SDOs (see Lightwave, February 2000, p. 26,). Here too, electronic document-handling has a crucial role to play.

William B. Gardner represents OFS Fitel (Norcross, GA) in ITU-T Working Party 4/15, where he serves as a rapporteur. He can be contacted at tel: 770-798-2674; fax: 770-798-3218; e-mail:

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