The Telecom Consortia Alphabet Soup

What do they all mean and how are they different…

I often get asked what is the difference between the LiMo Foundation and the Open Handset Alliance, or what is the difference between the SCOPE Alliance Carrier Grade OS and Carrier Grade Linux or the difference between SAF and OpenSAF on the infrastructure side of the business. Unless you are really close to the Telecom industry in some capacity that is directly involved with one of those organizations, it can all seem very confusing as well as a bit redundant. In actuality there is very little overlap and each organization fits a very specific role in the ecosystem. First, it is important to note that both the maturity and the objective of the consortia are quite different between the terminal (or handset) side of the business and the infrastructure side. Another key distinction is what I like to call “solutions-based” consortia and “open standards” based consortia. Almost all of the hand-set consortia getting hype in the press today are “solutions-based” consortia such as the LiMo Foundation and the Open Handset Alliance. These consortia are not focused on creating standards that drive wide interoperability. Rather their objective is to drive a specific solution to market and preferably, to gain a market advantage while doing that. And on top of that, only members of the consortia have access to the solution(s). These consortia are really more of a large business development group, each member company focused on how they can drive business through the consortia. Now, there is nothing particularly wrong with that and it is an important part of growing a nascent market, as long as you don’t confuse it with developing standards. The infrastructure part of telecom is a bit more mature, leveraging off of the wireline business that has existed for nearly a century.  The primary objective of open-standards based consortia in the infrastructure market is usually to define standards that ultimately create an even playing field for all companies in a market, whether they are members of the consortia or not. The solutions-based consortia (LiMo and OHA) create implementations or reference platforms for a specific set of software that may be open source or proprietary and is usually a combination of both.

On the other hand the standards-based consortia do not create reference platforms. In fact that is usually frowned upon. I remember the early days of the Carrier Grade Linux Workgroup when we made a reference implementation of CGL. It was rejected by the Linux community because it was not considered “open”, but rather an implementation created just to server the members of CGL. But since those early days the CGL workgroup abandoned the reference platform and only documented requirements and specifications for what a Carrier Grade Linux should be; not creating any actual implementations. Now the CGL and the Linux community enjoy a strong cooperative relationship sponsored by the Linux Foundation.

Another interesting relationship is that between SAF (Service Availability Framework) and OpenSAF. SAF is a standards-based consortium of the most pure kind. SAF only creates APIs for high-availability (HA) that can then be adopted by any company (whether they are members of SAF or not) and can be used in HA applications and operating systems. SAF APIs have widely become the standard for HA in nearly all telecommunications companies and the APIs drive interoperability between hardware and applications. The OpenSAF Foundation is an interesting consortium, as it is a mix between a solution and a standards-based consortium. OpenSAF is creating an open source implementation (e.g. solution) of SAF. OpenSAF is actually an open source project and does not define any standards or APIs themselves; instead they work very closely with the SAF consortia. The difference between OpenSAF and the handset consortia however is that OpenSAF is strictly an open source-based project and is available to any individual or company that wants do download it, unlike the handset consortia that are member-only. OpenSAF is based on a LGPL license and open standards (SAF) but it is very much a solution or implementation.

Finally there is the SCOPE Alliance, another consortia that is not really a standards-based consortium, but rather an industry advisory organization. Made up of the all the leading network equipment providers (NEPs), the SCOPE Alliance charter is to define profiles, recommendations for a Carrier Grade Base Platform and promote open standards in the Telecom market. SCOPE uses only existing open standards from CGL, SAF, ATCA and other groups to define profiles of what standards are needed for Carrier Grade platforms. In addition they are also delivering recommendations to the industry, in the form of white papers, on requirements and use cases for virtualization, power management and other key areas in Telecom.

No matter if they are solutions-based, open-standards based or a mixture of both or whether they address the terminal or the infrastructure part of Telecom; all of these consortia serve a key roll in further developing their markets. They also serve the very important function of accelerating the market and defining standards and solutions that can be used to develop commercial products long into the future.

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