A week or so ago, I enjoyed a couple of subterranean days under the banks of the Seine at a Small Cell Forum Plugfest along with other of my ip.access colleagues, representatives from 26 other companies as well as some great people from Orange and the ETSI Plugtest™ team. Why? – In the end it’s all about confidence…
Standardisation and the need for Confidence
Standardisation typically brings together a range of competiing suppliers and purchasers to develop specifications, and is intended to allow some commoditisation and interoperability of products in turn for achieving the end goal of growing a market and increased revenue for all. A good standard also allows suppliers to differentiate themselves.
A key benefit of this is that it also allows purchasers much greater confidence that they will have a range of equipment and different suppliers to choose from rather than being locked in to a proprietary solution. The exceptional success of the GSM mobile phone standard depended on the confidence that there were enough operators willing to buy, and handset and network equipment vendors willing to make the major R+D investments to develop a reliable choice of solutions for, that technology.
Confidence in Practice
An aspect of standardisation is the commoditisation of products – and somewhere along the line that means checking that interoperability is actually there for real. Mobile handsets and radio transmitting parts have typically had to go through a rigorous type approval process but for network equipment and backhaul interfaces the process is less formal, carried out via Interoperability testing (IOT.)
The Small Cell Forum (then the Femto Forum) introduced its first Plugfest in March 2010 to test the relatively new Iuh standard for the 3G Small Cell backhaul protocol. Driven its IOT group, it was held close to the ETSI headquarters in Sophia Antipolis, France, and ip.access was one of the 22 equipment vendors taking part to help check their implementations and demonstrate that the then newly-minted standard was fit for purpose and interoperable. This was a useful meeting and identified that the specs were fundamentally OK, even if there was some scope for clarification. As someone who had been involved in writing the specifications in 3GPP, this was good to learn.
Since then there have been a number of Plugfests testing various aspects of the Small Cell equipment ecosystem and the 2nd one to test LTE was held over the end of June and beginning of July at the Orange Cévennes Laboratory – 15000 m2 of space on multiple levels underground by the River Seine in Paris. IP.access and other vendors had developed and reviewed the test cases used, so it was also good to see some of what I’d written being put to use. Orange France Telecom have been a long term supporter of these Plugfests, making test networks and laboratory space available for nearly all them. The ETSI Plugtest ™ team – specifically formed by ETSI to facilitate a range of Plugfests across ETSI standards – has supported the work as well, as has the European Union which sponsors a number of Plugfests. There are some day-by-day blogs from the ETSI team here.
So a big thank you to Anne and the Orange team, Silvia and the ETSI team, and Kreso, chair of the SCF IOT group for making it all happen, and hopefully we will be able to carry on plugging away to build the market.