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Introduction to
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Security and
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The end of the
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Ecma International

Standards@Internet Speed

Jan_van_den_Beld

Jan W. Van den Beld
Secretary-General of
Ecma International
jan@ecma-international.org

Standardization in information and communication technology and consumer electronics involves special requirements. Short technology life cycles dictate the development time of standards. Ecma International develops “Standards@Internet Speed”: Lean, flexible organization allows high-quality standards to be drawn up in less than a year; with the fast-track procedure proposed by Ecma in 1987, an Ecma standard can be approved by ISO or IEC within as little as six months. 

Ecma International was established in 1961 on initiative of the heads of three long-standing Europe-based companies – Bull, IBM Europe and ICT – with the objective of eliminating confusion. Since then, Ecma has resolved many working arrangements to become a highly efficient standards-drafting body. So far it has published 363 standards and 88 technical reports. Today it possesses experienced multi-disciplinary staff to guide companies through the maze of international standardization.

Ecma focuses on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Consumer Electronics (CE). Current topics include scripting and programming languages, volume and file structures, product safety, environmentally conscious design practices as well as optical and magnetic storage including Holographic Versatile Discs and Cards (HVD & HVC). HVDs’ initial capacity of 200 gigabytes – set to grow to 1 terabyte – and high transfer speed – growing from 100 megabits to 1 gigabit per second – represent a quantum leap in storage capacity.  

Standardization of leading Ultra-Wideband (UWB) technology

In telecommunications, Ecma deals with architecture, services, protocols, interoperability and management and application aspects of Corporate Telecommunication Networks (CNs). CNs include narrowband and broadband Private Integrated Services Networks (PISNs) and private networks based on the Internet Protocol (IP). A hot topic of standardization at present is Ultra-Wideband (UWB), the leading technology enabling wireless connection of multiple devices for transmission of video, audio and other high-bandwidth data. The communication technology is designed for short-range Wireless Personal Area Networks (WPANs). The combi-nation of broader spectrum and lower power improves speed and reduces interference with other wireless radio systems. The potential and increasing use of UWB are spurring standardization. In April 2005 Ecma founded Task Group 20 (TG20) with the objective of monitoring market developments and defining a standardization strategy. TG20 members are currently working on standardization of the lower levels of the OSI reference model (radio, baseband, media access and control). An Ecma standard is expected to be published by the end of this year. 

Next step in Near Field Communication (NFC)

Standardization is also crucial in Near Field Communication (NFC). NFC is a protocol for very short-range communication – distances of up to
10 centimeters – and is optimized for intuitive, easy, secure communication between various devices just by bringing them close together or making them touch. Cards, mobile phones, modems, printers and other peripherals will achieve a new level of interoperability. Next-generation mobile phones will be personal access tokens for payment and other services and will be capable of exchanging payment and other information and even reading smart cards. NFC is backward compatible with the installed contactless cards infrastructure. It can also bootstrap other protocols such as Bluetooth and Wireless Ethernet (WiFi) by exchanging the configuration and session data.

In 2002, Ecma set up Task Group 19 (TG19) to specify the NFC signal interfaces and protocols. In December 2003 the basic standard ECMA-340 and its extension ECMA-352 enabling interoperability with other systems were adopted by the ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee JTC1. In 2004 Ecma published two more standards defining test methods, which were also approved by ISO and IEC. Task group TG19 is now going one step further and is working on the Near Field Communication Wired Interface (NFC-WI). Here, an analog radio-frequency transmitting and receiving chip is connected via the NFC-WI to a microprocessor handling all the digital processing functions of the NFC protocol. This separation is interesting for mobile phones, among other devices: The radio-frequency unit could be built into the device, and digital processing could be integrated on the SIM card. The Ecma standard specifying this interface is expected out in autumn of this year. 

Ecma and ISO: the perfect match

Ecma works closely with other European and international standardization bodies such as ISO, IEC, ITU-T, CEN (European Committee for Standardization), CENELEC (European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization) and ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute). Although ISO, IEC and Ecma have always enjoyed a natural symbiosis for mutual benefit, their scopes, structures and working methods are very different: Ecma focuses on ICT and CE, while ISO and IEC have far broader scopes; ISO’s technical committees work through national bodies, whilst Ecma works directly with industrial companies and non-profit organizations such as universities and government bodies; ISO’s five-stage process involves national followed by

international consensus-building, whereas Ecma’s members enjoy direct participation in a fast three-stage process. This system enables Ecma to respond to its members’ special needs in terms of standardization in ICT and CE. The short life cycles of products such as magnetic and optical storage devices (e.g. DVDs) dictate the development time of standards, which is usually less than a year at Ecma. In addition, software standardization requires an iterative process much akin to that of the release of software products. It is impossible to develop a complete, long-standing standard in a single run.

In the mid 1980s, ISO and IEC created the fast-track procedure based on a proposal by Ecma. After being vetted by Ecma, the standards go through a meticulous international process within JTC1 to ensure quality. Of the 250 fast-track proposals which have been submitted to ISO and IEC to date, Ecma has contributed over 80 percent, only one of which has been rejected. To simplify publication, ISO and Ecma standards are given a very similar structure. 

Membership and structure

Ecma has four membership categories with annual fees of 100, 50, 25 and 5 percent of the annual unit value (70,000 Swiss francs during the last six years), which finance the budget, while a reserve fund is available for contingencies.

Ecma’s structure consists of two levels: the General Assembly (GA) and the Technical Committees (TCs), which may consist of several task groups depending on their size. The GA is responsible for Ecma’s publications, intellectual property rights (IPR), relationships with other organizations, political lobbying with respect to standards relating to environmental issues and product safety, public relations, financing, membership, by-laws and rules. The GA uses qualified votes – e.g. for the approval of publications, which currently amount to 450 – and simple majority votes, e.g. for the creation of a TC. The TCs are responsible for the development of standards and technical reports. Ecma’s process ensures high quality and speed.

Its members and five-person secretariat proactively pursue the acquisition of new work.  

Ecma has secured a strong position

The creation of more than 400 consortia proves that the high-tech industry needs regulating. Ecma and the consortia are complementary, often sharing several members. Ecma combines the agility of consortia with the quality of de jure standardization organizations. By linking its efficient infrastructure and proven flexible working methods with well established interfaces to ISO, IEC and other standardization bodies, Ecma has secured a strong position in the standardization of the information and communication technology and consumer electronics industries. 

For more information about Ecma International, visit
www.ecma-international.org

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