IP Standards: No room for Mr. Nice Guy
Victor Berman: That’s mainly the case here in the U.S. It’s actually better in Europe, and China is wide open. And all of us here, despite our complaining, are actually guilty of being enablers of the cell phone companies in this area. They all offer these enticing products [with the phones]. If you’re strong, of course, you do something else, but it’s hard to resist the marketing, so we sell our souls. Apple has sold more than a million phones connected to AT&T, [and now] people are cracking the iPhone code.
Bill Martin: Yes, now people are even posting information out on the Internet describing how to deconstruct the iPhone and open it up to any service provider.
Warren Savage: That brings us back to what Bill said earlier. There’s definitely money to be made by not being forced to adhere to standards.
Peggy Aycinena: But I thought the money was made by adhering to standards?
Warren Savage: Actually there’s money to be made on both sides. It’s actually two sides of the same thing.
Victor Berman: You can have two different GSM phones, but they’re both locked because they have two different protocols.
Ian Mackintosh: I don’t agree. I don’t think there’s a lack of standards in cell phones. Look, cell phones do talk with each other across service providers, so standards do exist in that industry. The real question is – at what level do they exist?
We live in a capitalistic world, where companies exist to make profits. Protecting channels, or incomplete standards, or interoperability is, thank goodness, a choice. We should leverage those opportunities while they exist. It’s only through a natural evolution that handsets will be interoperable, which is [by the way] definitely what’s in the cards today.
Ralph von Vignau: This goes back to our basic theme. I also believe that it’s a choice that everyone has. Codes never last for long. Look at the DVD [anti-piracy code] – even it was broken. There’s a battle between the cell phone service providers and the equipment providers. Service providers lock you in for 2 or 3 years, because they’ll get back [the cost of the handset they’re providing for free] through the calls. In certain European companies that’s been broken up by legislation, not because the service providers did it, but because legislation stopped it. In the U.S., the question is who or when will the throttle on the system be broken. [Until then], the service providers will retain the power to throttle change.
Bill Martin: A lot of good things are being said here. Ian said cell phones work between each other. Yes, that’s enabled by standards. And, business models provide the differentiation, so there can be a lock-in. I do think in the next 3-to-5 years, you’ll have what you want, Peggy, as far as choosing providers wherever you’re at.
Things like the open operating system initiative from Google and Verizon is going to break down some barriers [and help answer the question of] who owns the content in providing additional software features in the phone. It may come from different providers in the future, but this [controversy] is going to continue. In time, however, you’ll get what you want. Some competitors are now working in tandem. As soon as you see that happen [in an industry], you know change is coming.
Peggy Aycinena: So, speaking of change. What happened with VSIA? Can you guys talk about it?
Victor Berman: VSIA lost its focus. They started out with a very different idea of what they eventually were trying to do. They largely accomplished the first piece [of their intended agenda], and then the organization became quite large, but wasn’t focused enough on specific goals. Initially, there were similar goals [across the membership], but that evaporated over time, so it was hard to keep things going.
Warren Savage: I’ve been tracking VSIA for 10 years, and I [would argue the focus was lost] earlier more than later. They overreached somewhat in what they were trying to do. It was originally a big and noble idea that, had it come to fruition, would have been good for the industry. But they always battled uneven participation, or lack of participation. Some VSIA working groups were very sparsely attended, and for those groups it was hard to even get a quorum. Then, with time, I saw the bigger companies lose interest. They started to ask, what’s the ROI of participation in VSIA?
Ian Mackintosh: All standards organizations suffer to one degree or another from a set of problems. For VSIA, the primary problem was their inability to communicate the value, the benefits, and the facts [about the organization]. It caused a failure to get by.
However, to a different degree – they improved the ease of adoption for the things they were working on, and the actual value in terms of standards themselves. But the timing of some of the things they were doing [generated FUD] from other standards bodies – issues around NIH, protectionism, were standards compulsory or mandatory. [Finally], they faced the issue that I call adoptive diversity. People always have different concerns and needs that [they hope will be met by adopting] standards. That diversity can pull apart the activities [in a standard] and cause doubt about the ROI of participation.
Ralph von Vignau: Certainly, there was some de-focusing at VSIA. They forgot who they were standardizing for. Their efforts became very inward driven, rather than looking around at what they needed to provide. They were only working for themselves in the end. It brought to an end the innovation and the forward drive, and VSIA disappeared. The working groups collapsed. When people gathered [at VSIA meetings], they were talking about esoteric problems of the world. That was the worst of it.
In the end, it became a discussion of the organization and the members achieving their own goals as people, rather than what are the standards. Of the four standards VSIA was working on, if it hadn’t been for Kathy Warner driving QIP, there would have been nothing accomplished at all.
VSIA was a learning process for other standardization groups – people watching to ensure it didn’t happen again. In a way, we’re all part of [the history of VSIA]. I was even on the board of VSIA out of frustration, but you just couldn’t turn this thing around.
Bill Martin: I was in late [at VSIA] – Ralph was already gone by that time. Victor was there, but then off a year, and Ian had been in VSIA before I was there. I was there at the tail end. Early on, I could see it was way too late. There were political fights that caused a lack of things getting out early, and I agree – there wasn’t any focus.
Without results, you get a bad reputation, so people started dropping out although there were still members. But, there was apathy. People wouldn’t sponsor different working groups. I think the early 3 or 4 years of the organization set it up for failure. It was just a question of when. I was one of the ones who voted to shut it down.
But, it’s very important to note that Kathy Werner did not cause the demise of VSIA. She should not take any blame at all. Kathy put her heart and soul into getting the Verification and Hard IP QIP in place. The sole credit is hers for getting those things done!
Warren Savage, Ian Mackintosh, Ralph von Vignau: [Together] Absolutely! Kathy should take no blame, but only credit for what was accomplished by VSIA.
Bill Martin: In fact, if we’d had a ton of clones of Kathy, VSIA would undoubtedly have been very successful. It would have been much more like what SPIRIT is trying to do today.
Ralph von Vignau: We were actually in the process of attempting to merge the VSIA and SPIRIT consortiums, but it just could not be done. This organizational beast kept looking at itself like a sort of self-obsessed entity. Both Gary Delp and Kathy worked with me on this, but [it could not be done].