The Standards Cheat Sheet: What You Need to Know About the IEEE Standards Process

IEEE 802 standards are used but not often thought of in our daily lives—IEEE 802.3, Ethernet, IEEE 802.11, Wi-Fi, IEEE 802.15.4, Wi-SUN, etc. Despite these standards playing a role in almost every piece of technology we own, we have a limited understanding of how they’re created. For mission-critical entities who are reliant on IEEE 802 standards for wireless telecommunications, there is potential to better utilize and enhance these standards through user participation in the standardization process.

As former utility employees working as telecommunications engineers, we were not encouraged to participate in, nor did we understand the process and benefits of engaging with the standards process. Even when standards that showed value for our wireless operations like IEEE 802.16s appeared on our radar, participation in the process was not prioritized or emphasized. Organizations like EPRI do participate and represent the utility perspective, yet much of standards’ projects are handled by vendors and there is an opportunity for mission-critical end users to make their requirements known.

Now, as a radio manufacturer working on the other side, there’s no denying that the IEEE 802.16s standard and updates to its technologies can support infrastructure modernization, secure operations, and enhance resiliency. It’s also become clear, after participating more heavily in standard development, that the process still generates confusion among end users in the utility, oil & gas, rail, etc. industries who do not understand and therefore do not participate.

After attending my first IEEE 802 plenary meeting this past November, I was able to see the value that could be realized by their participation. Participation in the IEEE 802 standards process, not just by the vendors by also by the end users, is what will enable mission critical communications technologies progress in a way that benefits and meets the unique demands of these critical industries.

What are IEEE 802.16 standards and how do they work?

The IEEE 802 standards fall under the IEEE Computer Society in one of the 25 Societies and Councils in Standardization Activities. This specific group is formally called the IEEE Project 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee. There is a 10-step process required to turn an idea into a standard:

  1. An idea is presented to the committee and a Call for Interest is created,
  2. If there is sufficient interest, a Study Group is formed.
  3. The Study Group presents a Project Authorization Request (PAR) to the IEEE 802 Executive Committee.
  4. The Committee will then vote on the PAR.
  5. If the PAR is approved by a majority, it is then forwarded to the New Standards Committee (NesCom) for their review and approval.
  6. Once approved, the PAR will be assigned to an existing working group if the topic falls into an existing scope, or if it is unique a new working group will be formed by the Executive Committee.
  7. A task group will be formed within the working group to begin the technical work on the standard – this process can take months or years depending on the scope.
  8. The completed draft of the standard goes to a vote with members of the working group, requiring 75% of voting members approval.
  9. Once the Working Group Ballot passes, it goes to the Standards Association (SA) Ballot for approval
  10. Once the Standards Association approves, it goes to the Review Committee (RevCom) and the Standards Board for final approval.

How can you participate in the standards process?

Voting membership is important because it allows a person to vote on the technical decisions made during the development of the standard, as well as on ballots leading to approval of the standard. Providing input during the inception and development of a standard throughout the process allows user requirements and use cases to be documented and gives individuals a chance to review and provide feedback so standards can meet their specific needs.

Becoming a voting member of a working group does require ongoing attendance at standards meetings, which some may believe to be unrealistic, but the benefits far outweigh the time commitment as you can help your company’s voice be head. Here’s what’s required:

  • To become a voting member or continue voting membership, you must attend two of the last four IEEE 802 plenary meetings. (One interim meeting can be substituted for a plenary).
  • 75% of the meeting’s sessions must be attended.
  • The same individual must be in attendance to become or maintain status as a voting member, another member from the same company cannot be substituted
  • Membership may be lost for failure to respond or abstaining for reasons other than “lack of technical expertise” to two of the last three ballots.

Why should I participate in the process?

Participation in the standardization process is a commitment, but that should not be a deterrent. Standards are one of the most powerful resources to mission critical users as they are created by the end user (with support from the industry) for the end user. By sharing the applications and specific needs that you have, manufacturers and academics can develop the framework for new technology standards and manufacturers can build equipment that is suitable for these demands. By participating in the standards process and providing your company’s use cases and applications, it’s possible to create a standard and end product that will be a more useable for you.

The opportunity to participate comes with the new year as a new standard known as IEEE 802.16t, which focuses on narrow channels and spectrum aggregation, will be begin in early 2020. The first IEEE 802.16t task group meeting will be held in conjunction with the IEEE 802 interim meeting January 12-17, 2020, in Irvine, California, and the second meeting will be held from March 15-20, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia, along with the IEEE 802 plenary meeting. Consider getting involved as this new standard revision is developed. Your participation is critical in its success and industry value.

Kathy Nelson is Director Technical Product Marketing and Industry Relations for Ondas Networks.