Telecoms standards organization plans for the future

By on 30 Sep 2016

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Mr Yoichi Maeda, Chairman of ITU-T Study Group 15, addressing attendees at the 4th Meeting of the APT preparatory meeting for the ITU’s WTSA16 (Photo: APT Secretariat)

The fourth and final Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT) preparatory meeting for the ITU’s WTSA 16 was hosted by the Ministry of Information and Communications, Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, in Da Nang from 23 to 26 August 2016.

Member States at this meeting agreed on 21 Provisional APT Common Proposals (PACP). These will now be voted on by Member States and the successful proposals will be submitted to the ITU Secretariat for translation and distribution before the world conference next month.

APNIC has participated in three of the four APT preparatory meetings, since I attended the second meeting in October 2015. As I explained then, the principal purpose of a WTSA world conference is to set the agenda, working methods, and office holders for the next four years of standards development at the ITU-T (the International Telecommunications Union – Telecommunications Standardization Sector).

The standards formed by the Internet Engineering Taskforce (IETF) have a greater effect on the day-to-day lives of APNIC Members. However, it’s not that straightforward. The suite of ITU-T Recommendations covers a broad range of telecommunications activities from telephony and non-telephony services. That is why the reach and size of this United Nations offshoot is closely watched by developing and developed nations.

A truck load of standards

The H-series of recommendations for audiovisual and multimedia systems, for example, covers technologies as diverse as e-Health, mobile visual surveillance, telepresence, IPTV and more including H264 (MPEG-4) codec. There’s even a whole book about it.

Other series are equally diverse, including the X series on data networks, open system communications and security. And then there is the Y series on global information infrastructure, Internet protocol aspects and next generation networks, which is home to test suites and performance metrics for IP-based networks; network management and architecture advisories that cover future networks; cloud computing; and more recently the Internet of Things (IoT).

APNIC is not a standards organization and does not participate in the development of these recommendations, but monitors the views of Member States in the Asia Pacific via the APT preparatory process.

Here is a look at the proposed changes to three existing Resolutions that were discussed at the APT and three new proposed Resolutions coming for the Asia Pacific region:

The problem with multi-party responsibilities

Resolution 50 on cybersecurity instructs the ITU Secretariat and the Study Groups to consider the security aspects of their signalling and protocol standards, to keep in mind the ITU X-series recommendations on security, and to undertake a range of other activities in relation to collaborating with other security groups, including the IETF.

The final APT proposal for Resolution 50 puts forward the argument that cybersecurity is a cross-cutting issue that involves many different stakeholders and providers across national, regional and global levels. That being the case, it instructs:

the ITU-T study groups to address cybersecurity threat management that covers the roles and responsibilities of equipment provider, software provider, service provider and end users in ensuring cyber threat management is effective and provides a clear multi-party responsibility in mitigating cyber security threats;

Recognizing that many actors are responsible for system security is a good thing, but could bring unintended consequences if used as justification to draft legislation. Such a recommendation moves away from intermediary liability protections, protections for vendors from liability for misuse of their products or services, and the grouping together of multiple parties for the apportionment of blame and demands for mitigation.

Encourage, don’t mandate

A Resolution on IP address allocation looks set for a makeover too, with Resolution 64 the subject of some proposed changes from the APT Member States.

The document was once used by Member States making a push to seize control of the Internet address management from the Regional Internet Registries in favour of ITU, or direct Government control. That didn’t really work out in the last WTSA in 2012, but the text of Resolution 64 still makes the claim:

many developing countries want the Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) to become a registry of IP addresses in order to give the developing countries the option of obtaining IP addresses directly from ITU, while other countries prefer to use the current system.

Fortunately, that statement seems less of an issue in 2016. On face value, Resolution 64 is about efforts to deploy IPv6 in response to IPv4 exhaustion.

The changes proposed from the APT Member States are focused on the latter objective of the document, to encourage and assist with implementing and transitioning to IPv6. They are well-meaning, but again, have aspects that are a little concerning if interpreted or implemented the wrong way.

There are new provisions that seem to make the responsibility for IPv6 deployment a state responsibility. However, markets best operate when operators can make their own investment decisions. While APNIC might like operators to decide to deploy IPv6 sooner rather than later, it’s best left to them to decide when to spend the money and put the effort in.

APNIC offers support to governments to “encourage” IPv6 deployment, but delivering ill-timed “mandates” may prove counterproductive.

The current version of the text seems more concerned with Governments placing requirements on organizations delivering services to Governments, which I think is a fair future-proofing strategy that can help IPv6 deployment.

Another potentially troubling aspect to this proposed change relates to the emphasis it places on IoT. Many in the ITU seem to link IPv6 and IoT together so tightly that it would appear that IoT is completely reliant on the larger address space. This thinking could lead to some erroneous conclusions (I’ll talk more about these below).

Perhaps with some wordsmithing at the conference these bugs in Resolution 64 will get ironed out, but we don’t know what other regions will propose just yet as all are still in the process of finalizing their preparations.

SDNs and Open Source

The last existing proposal for change to an existing Resolution that I want to look at is Resolution 77 – Standardization work in the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector for software-defined networking (SDN).

The changes to the Resolution seek to accelerate and coordinate work in the SDN area, including virtualization of network functions. The general tone of the initial contributions seems to be an attempt to position the ITU as the premier standards organization for SDN, by collaborating and incorporating with work done by other Standards Development Organizations and the Open Source community.

The ITU sees a lot of potential in SDN standards area. There is plenty of work and development in SDN, much of it Open Source. This provides something of a conundrum to a standards organization as there’s no clear model for collaboration with the often diverse and distributed development efforts of Open Source software development.

New Resolutions under construction

There are proposals for three new Resolutions covering IoT and Smart Cities, mobile data, and cloud computing.

The point of the IoT Resolution is to further establish and develop the ITU’s mandate to become the principal standards organization for IoT. To the best of my knowledge, the position is currently vacant. Much of the IoT implementations done to date seem to be proprietary, open source, or bespoke solutions.

The new Resolution – Enhancing the Standardization of IoT and Smart City & Communities – places requirements on Study Group 20 and the Director of the T-Sector to accelerate the work on IoT, particularly in manufacturing, but also Smart Cities. There are calls for collaboration with other SDOs and with Study Group 17 on security and privacy issues.

Meanwhile, the proposed new Resolution on Enhancing the Standardization Activities of IMT-2020 instructs Groups to work across a very specific range of International Mobile Telecommunication related issues that focus on non-radio issues to do with mobile data including interfaces, network virtualization, backhaul, QoS and so on.

Finally, an interesting proposal for a new Resolution that is applicable to IoT and airline flight traffic monitoring systems calls on several Study Groups to consider cloud solutions for event monitoring.

None of these proposals are agreed, of course. Each region will have its own ideas about these changes and will have ideas of their own for new Resolutions, or changes to existing Resolutions not reviewed by the APT region.

In a month’s time, more than a thousand representatives from governments, standards organizations, researchers, and private enterprise providers of systems and services will all converge on Tunisia at the WTSA to work through the proposals in an effort to set the agenda, establish mandates, and seek ways to work better over the next four years.

APNIC will continue to report on the discussions.

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The views expressed by the authors of this blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of APNIC. Please note a Code of Conduct applies to this blog.

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