The following text is copyright 1998 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.

A convergence side effect

By Scott Bradner

Network World, 9/21/98

Convergence is all the rage these days. IP is taking over the
telecommunications world.

Voice, video and data are all seen as migrating to the Internet or, at
least, are expected to be carried over IP networks. In the past few
months, there have been major announcements from many of the
large long-distance carriers, telephone equipment suppliers, cable TV
companies, ISPs and data network equipment vendors about the
wonderful products and services that will soon be changing our
world. While not everyone subscribes to the cult of IP inevitability, it
sure seems to be gaining in popularity.

The telecommunications area is rich in standards organizations. In
addition to the internationally chartered traditional standards
organizations such as the International Telecommunication Union
( and the International Organization for Standardization
(www., there are a number of regional bodies, many
nationally based organizations and consorts such as the ATM Forum.

If one can assert that 10 years is a history, the Internet Engineering
Task Force (IETF) has been the primary standards development
organization for IP-related protocols. But there are quite a few other
organizations that are starting to think they should play a role.

Over the years, the IETF has established relationships with a number
of other standards bodies. The IETF has liaisons with the ATM
Forum and with different Study Groups within the ISO.

The relationships between the IETF and other standards organizations
have been congenial but have generally not been all that close over the
past few years. I expect the relationships to get closer, though
sometimes more contentious as the convergence bandwagon gains
momentum. The groups will get closer because the various
organizations are becoming ever more dependent on each others'
technology. However, the relationships will grow more contentious
when two or more organizations are working on the same problem.

Cooperation among organizations can work very well as was shown
in the joint IETF-ITU Internet-FAX effort earlier this year. Such
cooperation has just been reinforced by the development of the joint
IETF-ITU process document announced last week.

In the ideal case, two or more organizations will agree on one
standards document, processed by one of the organizations and
referred to by the others. Unfortunately this will not always happen.
There will be cases in which organizations will disagree on the
definition of or technical solution to a particular problem. The result
will be competing standards. While competing standards are not ideal,
the situation is better than technological stagnation. The market will
decide which solution better meets actual user requirements.

After years of being mostly ignored by the traditional standards
community and returning the favor, the IETF must now figure out
how to work with others without compromising the quality of its

Disclaimer: It is rare that Harvard has the problem of being ignored,
but I know of no Harvard statement on the above topic.