The following is a contributed article by Kathy Nelson P.E., Director of Technical Product Marketing and Industry Relations, Ondas Networks
The electric power industry and others use many IEEE 802 standards on a daily basis without much thought or knowledge of how the standards were created — IEEE 802.3 — Ethernet, IEEE 802.11 — Wi-Fi, IEEE 802.15.4 — Wi-SUN, etc.
For widely adopted commercial standards, putting this understanding on the backburner is fine. However, there are other IEEE 802 standards, specifically those used for mission critical applications, that could be better utilized and enhanced if users were to engage in the standardization process.
IEEE standards create a framework which technology providers can build to, enabling a multi-vendor ecosystem that addresses the changing needs of mission-critical industries. With the evolution of the Industrial Internet of Things and the more narrowly defined Mission-Critical Internet of Things, these standards, specifically the IEEE 802 standards for telecommunications, become even more important as they provide a guarantee of longevity and eliminate reliance on risky proprietary solutions.
As a former utility employee working as a telecommunications engineer, we were not encouraged to participate in, nor did we understand the process and benefits of engaging with the standards process. It wasn't until a specific standardized wireless communications technology, which appeared to hold value for the utility industry, that the IEEE 802 standards even appeared on my radar.
One standard in particular, IEEE 802.16s, was and still is important for grid modernization, but despite its potential for the industry, there was still no encouragement to work on the standard. Although organizations like the Electric Power Research Institute participate and represent the utility perspective, much of standards' projects are handled by vendors, and value is lost to users by not actively engaging during the process.
Now, working on the other side for a radio manufacturer, it's clear to see that the interest in the IEEE 802.16s standard and updates to IEEE 802.16 technology could help mission critical industries. Being more deeply ingrained in the development of these standards, I am now beginning o learn the process of how IEEE standardization works and why end user participation from utility, oil & gas, and rail/transportation telecommunications and IT staff is valuable and important.
After attending my first IEEE 802 plenary meeting in November 2019, I was struck by the lack of involvement by end users and by the value that could be realized by their participation. Participation in the IEEE 802 standards process, not just by the vendors, but also by the end users, is necessary to help mission critical communications technologies progress in a way that benefits and meets the unique demands of these critical industries.
Here's what you need to know about the process.
What are IEEE 802.16 standards and how do they work?
IEEE 802 standards are under the IEEE Computer Society in one of the 25 Societies and Councils in Standardization Activities. This specific group is formally called the IEEE Project 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee.
When an idea for a standard is presented, there is a Call for Interest. If there is sufficient interest, a Study Group is formed. From the Study Group, a Project Authorization Request (PAR) is presented to the IEEE 802 Executive Committee which is made up of a chair, two vice chairs, a treasurer, a recording secretary, an executive secretary, the chair from each of the active 802 committees, and two member emeritus.
The IEEE 802 Executive Committee then votes on the PAR. If the PAR is approved by a majority, the PAR is forwarded to the New Standards Committee for their review and approval.
If the project falls within the scope of an existing working group, the PAR is then assigned to that working group (for example 802.11 or 802.15). If the topic is unique, a new working group is formed by the Executive Committee. Once a working group is selected, a task group is formed and technical work on the standard begins.
This process can take months or years, depending on the scope of the standard or standard revision. Upon completion, the standard or revision draft will be put to a vote in front of the eligible voting members of the working group where it will require a 75% approval rating from the voting members to pass.
After receiving approval from the Working Group Ballot, it goes to the Standards Association Ballot for approval and finally onto the Review Committee and the Standards Board for approval and finalization.
How can you participate in the standards process?
Participating in the standard is highly achievable, although there are requirements to become a voting member of a working group.
In order to become a voting member, the individual must attend two of the last four IEEE 802 plenary meetings and can substitute one interim meeting for a plenary annually. Once these requirements are filled, voting membership starts at the following plenary meeting and 75% of the sessions must be attended to maintain voting membership.
It is important to note, IEEE standards participation is based on individual attendance, not company attendance. The same person needs to attend these meetings in order to become a voting member.
In order to continue voting member status, a person must participate in two of the past four plenary meetings, although an interim meeting can be substituted for a plenary meeting. Furthermore, membership may be lost for failure to respond or abstaining for reasons other than "lack of technical expertise" to two of the last three ballots.
Voting membership is important because it allows a person to vote on the technical decisions made during the development of the standard, as well as on ballots leading to approval of the standard.
While attending standards meetings on an ongoing basis for end users may be challenging, which may make voting membership unrealistic, providing input into the beginning of a standards process so user requirements and use cases can be documented and providing review and feedback throughout the development of a standard can still be very beneficial.
Why should I participate in the process?
Those who are familiar with the process may ask why should end users be involved in a process that requires this level of commitment and the answer is simple — it is a valuable resource to shape standards to meet your specific needs.
The standards are created for use BY the end user. They are not developed for the equipment manufacturers or the academics that typically write them.
While equipment manufacturers and academics know what's involved in developing a radio and the technology inside the radio, they can only speculate as to the applications and use cases for the equipment that uses the standard technology. They do not know your business as well as you do.
By participating in the standards process, you can provide your company's use cases and applications. The end product standard will be a more useable product for you. It is most certainly a valuable use of your time.
In 2020, a new standard known as IEEE 802.16t, which focuses on narrow channels and spectrum aggregation, will be begin creating an opportunity for participation. The first IEEE 802.16t task group meeting will be held in conjunction with the IEEE 802 interim meeting January 12-17 in Irvine, California, and the second meeting will be held from March 15-20 in Atlanta, Georgia, along with the IEEE 802 plenary meeting.
Moving forward into the new year, it's important to get involved in the development of this new standard revision. Your participation is critical to its value and success.