This is the second part of a two part blog about the power and value of standardisation*. The first part was written in memory of, and in tribute to, Jack Edwards OBE MBE.
In this blog I am revisting the theme of standardisation with some personal experience. As you might expect, my tone is far more irreverent than Part 1!
As most parents will be aware, our children are our toughest critics and any praise is hard won! When my eldest son uttered the immortal words “dad, you’re a crap businessman” I was slightly crestfallen but, nonetheless, pleased he had at least taken some interest in my career! Naturally, I probed the reasoning of his statement. So, let me share some background.
Some of you may have heard about last year’s Rocco 100 survey published last year — I won’t spend time in this article talking about it — to be honest it has been covered to death by other people celebrating their own appearance and I send them all my hearty congratulations.
Anyway, I had printed out my own page in the survey to show my wife and by chance my son found it. His initial reaction was “wow, are you a Vice President dad? That’s amazing. You deserve my respect”. Respect and a compliment from my son was something that simultaneously shocked me, worried me and tentatively made me proud! We discussed it a little and then my son read the details of the profile.
Suddenly he came across the mention of my work standardising Near Real Time Roaming Data Exchange. For convenience I repeat the text below:
“My proudest achievement is being the creator of the Near Real Time Roaming Data Exchange in the face of initial rejection from the GSM Association and opposition from one of the world’s largest operator groups. I am proud that I had over 100 operators support my paper and within just a few years it became the industry standard in reality and not just on paper. It is now adopted by every single mobile operator worldwide. I think it is not an exaggeration to suggest that it has saved the industry at least $1bn since launch but probably several times greater than that.”
I should explain, my son is reading International Business Studies at the University of Sussex and makes it clear to me that he knows a thing or two about business. When it comes to making money he takes a great interest! Naturally, the question followed, “So dad, did you really save the industry $1bn?”. I explained that I would never know the true number but given the solution had been adopted globally, has been live for over 10 years, I thought it was a conservative estimate. He immediately continued “so how much did you make from it?”.
What a pertinent and tricky question and one without a simple answer. In financial terms I made precisely zero from this initiative. In fact, my only reward was a letter and a very small clock from the GSM Association. The real reward was personal pride. From my own employer, T-Mobile, I don’t recall even receiving an email!!! In fairness to my former manager, he did praise my work several years after we had both left the company, admitting that he hadn’t really appreciated the achievement.
The hardest thing to explain to my son was that it had never crossed my mind that I could have made money from the initiative. Collaboration across our industry is deeply embedded and second nature. Whilst competition is fantastic and serves to drive prices down, there is also a place for collaboration through standardisation and common specifications.
To illustrate the power of standardisation, consider the fact that you can call almost anyone in the world, irrespective of the destination, devices or operators involved. Prior to GSM being standardised, global international roaming was simply a pipe dream. To give credit to the Nordic countries, the NMT standard had supported roaming within the Nordic region from 1981 and later included the Netherlands and Switzerland. But that was obviously of limited value globally. However, the model was established, and eventually the CEPT Telecommunications Commission created a group to study the question of a pan-European systems. That group was called Groupe Spécial Mobile, or GSM for short. I am sure that the rest of the story is familiar to all readers!
So fast forward to today and we have a powerful ecosystem of operators and vendors contributing to global standardisation and specification. This is something I take very seriously, as do my colleagues. Together we dedicate significant resources through our participation in multiple fora such as 3GPP, GSMA, TM Forum, CFCA and RAG amongst others. We contribute our expertise, experience and, most importantly, our resources with the goal of improving the telecommunications ecosystem. For a company like ours this is not an expense but rather an investment and one that we are happy to make.
My previous blog about Jack Edwards illustrated the power of even the simplest standards and we a proud to continue that work into the future.
* I accept that many people will reject the term standardisation for work on activities such as specifying the NRTRDE standard. I accept that criticism fully but for ease of reading I have used the term to refer to both standardisation and common specifications.
For more details on the history of GSM this website is an excellent resource: http://www.gsmhistory.com/
A fascinating detailed history of the GSM project can be found in “GSM and UMTS: The Creation of Global Mobile Communication”, Friedhelm Hillebrand, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester, 2002, ISBN 0470 84322 5