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ITU-T e-FLASH - Issue No. 22


Telecommunication Standardization Sector

Issue No. 22  

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 1000 Recommendations Approved in Fast-Track
November 2005 saw the approval of 34 Recommendations bringing the total number approved under the so-called Alternative Approval Process (AAP) to over 1000. 

AAP is a fast-track approval procedure that was developed to allow standards to be brought to market in the timeframe that industry now demands. 

Among the 34 Recommendations that were approved in November were three relating to QoS in Internet Protocol (IP) based networks, one relating to a new generation digital cinema technology called LSDI, and one on digital rights management in home networking systems.

With a majority of its membership from the private sector, ITU’s standardization arm - ITU-T - understands the crucial balance between rapid delivery, quality and stability in standards development. AAP is designed to make sure that draft standards reach approved Recommendation status as quickly as possible while maintaining the highest degree of transparency. With approved global standards in place, network operators will have the confidence to rollout new generation services quickly and efficiently.

Besides streamlining the underlying procedures involved in the approval process, an important contributory factor to the success of AAP is computerisation. With this process, once a meeting considers that a draft Recommendation is ready for approval, it is posted on the ITU- T website, the membership is informed that the approval process has begun and the rest of the process can be completed electronically in the vast majority of cases with no further physical meetings.

This dramatic overhaul of standards-making by streamlining approval procedures was implemented in 2001 and is estimated to have cut the time involved in this critical aspect of the standardization process by 80 to 90 per cent. This means that an average standard which took around four years to approve and publish until the mid nineties, and two years until 1997, can now be approved in an average of two months, or as little as five weeks. At present, more than 3100 ITU-T Recommendations are in force and around 210 new and updated Recommendations are produced each year, that's nearly one for every working day.

The introduction of AAP also formalizes public/private partnership in the approval process by providing equal opportunities for both Sector Members (members coming from industry) and Member States in the approval of technical standards.

More information on the AAP can be found here

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 e-Flash Talks AAP With TSAG Chair
Gary Fishman, chairman of the Telecommunication Standardization Advisory Group (TSAG), talks to the e-Flash about the alternative approval process (AAP), which has been described by some as the envy of the standards world. 

AAP is a name that has stuck, according to Fishman, despite the fact it is now the normal rather than an alternative process because such has been its impact that the name has achieved brand name status among standards makers. 

Fishman says that a key driver for AAP was the need for the private sector experts who were writing most of the standards to have a voice in their approval, and to eliminate time-consuming steps that did not add value to the finished product. Before AAP, a period of nine months - the time between Study Group meetings - would elapse before the final stages of the approval process could even begin. AAP eliminated that lost time to better meet the needs of an increasingly fast-paced telecommunications industry, he says. AAP is also built around the principle that Member States and Sector Members, acting together, are both fully engaged in the approval process. Another important achievement of AAP has been the saving of significant sums of money.

The first mention of the need for an alternative to the traditional approval process grew out of the Plenipotentiary Conference in Kyoto 1994, when a group was formed to look at reform of the ITU. 

As Fishman points out, a change to the approval process was not to be taken lightly. This was a proposal to change an international treaty, and the needs and rights of the entire membership had to be taken into account. 

Fishman: “Once there was an agreement incorporated in the ITU Convention at the Plenipotentiary Conference (Minneapolis 1998), the Telecommunication Standardization Advisory Group (TSAG) started work on developing the detailed procedures. This had to be done within an eighteen month timeframe in order to be able to submit the proposal to the Montreal, WTSA, 2000.”

The Convention stipulated that the alternative approval procedure could only apply to Recommendations that had no policy or regulatory implications. At first estimates suggested that this meant that the new procedures could be applied to around 70 per cent of Recommendations. However after a thorough analysis by Fishman, including consultations with all the Study Group Chairmen and a particularly the Study Group 2 chairman, he saw that 90 per cent was a more realistic estimate. Close scrutiny of Study Group 2’s output was necessary he says because SG 2 is home to many Recommendations that have policy or regulatory implications, as well as many that don’t, and often a simple analysis of titles is not enough to understand which case might apply. His estimate was pretty much on target. 

Fishman says that the authoring process was started by looking at ways to remove procedures that took time and money yet added little or no value. He says that it was important to examine how to apply resources in a more effective way. For example, in the previous system many people had to fly around the world to attend physical meetings that turned out to be unnecessary: Delegates were required to attend meetings where they would simply sit and say nothing to indicate their unopposed agreement to a Recommendation. If there had been no change between the Study Group meeting that initiated the approval process and the Study Group's approval meeting nine months later, there was clearly time and money of the ITU and its members being wasted.

The authoring and building of consensus for the new process took a little over a year says Fishman: “In developing the procedures we relied to a certain extent on what was there, building on what was good. I broke down the process into five major steps or subroutines if you like. This meant that difficult areas were more easily identified, and dealing with them didn’t hold-up the rest. Once we had agreement on the principles and the framework of a process, we could start work on the detailed text. This was done partly by correspondence in between meetings of TSAG, and partly at the three TSAG meetings between the 1998 Plenipotentiary Conference and the 2000 WTSA.” 

AAP has also ended the practice of sending paper copies of Recommendations to members for review. This is handled electronically now, in a much more orderly way according to Fishman. “It is now possible to immediately see, in one place, all Recommendations under AAP. Knowing that each AAP announcement occurs on the first and sixteenth of each month makes for a much more open and efficient process.”

Recommendations that have regulatory or policy implications, or for which there is a doubt continue to be treated under the former system, now called the Traditional Approval Process (TAP), because of the necessity in these cases to engage in a formal consultation with ITU Member States.  

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 How it Works - AAP in a Nutshell
Once the text of a draft Recommendation prepared by study group experts is considered mature, it is submitted for review to a Study Group or Working Party meeting. If agreed by the meeting it is given Consent. This means that the SG or WP has given its consent that the text is sufficiently mature to initiate a final review process leading to approval of the draft Recommendation. After this Consent has been achieved, the Director of ITU-T's secretariat, the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB), announces the start of the AAP procedure by posting the draft text to the ITU-T web site and calling for comments. This gives the opportunity for all members to review the text.

This phase, called Last Call, is a four-week period in which comments can be submitted by Member States and Sector Members. If no comments other than editorial corrections are received, the Recommendation is considered approved since no issues were identified that might need any further work. However, if there are any comments, the SG chairman, in consultation with TSB, sets up a comment resolution process by the concerned experts. The revised text is then posted on the web for an Additional Review period of three weeks. 

Similar to the Last Call phase, in Additional Review the Recommendation is considered as approved if no comments are received. If comments are received, it is apparent that there are some issues that still need more work, and the draft text and all comments are sent to the next Study Group meeting for further discussion and possible approval. 

After a Last Call in which comments were received, if the SG Chairman sees that there is insufficient time for comment resolution and an Additional Review period, the draft Recommendation and unresolved comments can be sent directly to the next meeting of the SG for resolution and agreement. 

ITU-T Recommendation A.8 describes in detail the AAP approval procedure. 

Announcements detailing exactly what Recommendations are in Last Call, in Additional Review, approved or being sent to the next SG meeting are made on a twice monthly basis. Check the latest announcement here

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