Developing standards in a changing world

Dec. 1, 2002

Ask those involved in the development of fiber-optic standards to identify some of the key challenges they face and four common themes are likely to emerge: globalization, speed of delivery, harmonization, and terminology.

The liberalization of markets through mechanisms such as the World Trade Organization agreements has meant that many companies now face a global marketplace. That has resulted in an increasing move to develop and adopt international standards that meet needs worldwide instead of tackling several national or regional standards, each with its own particular set of requirements.

The reduction in fiber-optic product lifecycles has also meant that industry can no longer wait four to five years for publication of a standard. Many standards development organizations have recognized this fact and implemented processes to reduce the time to get a standard into the public domain. The International Electrotechnical Commission , for example, has introduced the pre-standard/publicly available specification (PAS), which is designed to meet an immediate need, while the full standard continues development through the normal route.

It is not surprising, perhaps, that with so many organizations involved in producing standards, users are often faced with conflicting requirements. These inconsistencies can come from a number of factors. For example, regional standards that continue to play an influential role in local markets may not align with international standards; major inconsistencies can even occur in standards produced by the same organization as a result of poor harmonization.

Take a look at published standards and product information sheets for any component type and often there is a wide variation in the terms used to define a particular product. That, taken together with the problems of poor harmonization, can result in major language difficulties and misunderstanding. Developing a common set of terms and definitions remains a fundamental issue for the fiber optics industry.

Standards bodies and their participants have taken big steps to address these issues. Ultimately, our success in dealing with the challenges will largely depend on our ability to change in a changing world.

Robert Johnson works at Corning Inc. and is a U.S. representative to IEC/SC86B/WG7, where he serves as secretary. He can be reached at tel: 607-974-7359; fax: 607-974-4941; e-mail: [email protected].