The IEEE Standards process, From Objectives to a Technology Standard

For the last two years I have been an Electrical Engineering student at UNH and working at the IOL testing SAS technologies.  This past summer I was asked  to work with Curtis Donahue, Manager of Ethernet Technologies, on a fairly new testing service; Automotive Ethernet. Due to my experience at the IOL and working with industry standards, I had a great opportunity to attend an IEEE meeting in California. The IEEE standards are used all around the world in different areas of technology, they act as a guideline to test all of the technologies at their respective rates.  During our trip I witnessed first hand the different steps a standards group must follow in order to take a project from an idea to a complete technical standard, such as  Multigig AE and SAS-4 standards. Throughout the week multiple standards groups met for their first time, and some for their multiple year in a row. The process of writing a standard, from start to finish, takes years itself. In the beginning, the groups start as a study group, looking to see if the project idea is feasible and if there is a market need or desire for it. If approved, the group then becomes a Task Force which focuses on the technical parts of the standard. Once completed and approved, they start revising the standard until all of the ideas and problems are completed and resolved. Attending an IEEE meeting was a great opportunity to see each stage of the standards process as I work with them everyday at the lab.

The most interesting part of the week was the “Multigig Automotive Ethernet,” which had just recently become a study group. This was their first official meeting as a study group and it began by creating and finalizing objectives. These objectives needed to satisfy market desire and be feasible based on equipment availability. Vendors from around the world attended this meeting  to begin the process of starting a project that would fulfill the desire for Multigig Automotive Ethernet or optical connections in cars. In the beginning, the OEM presented a survey showing that other companies that produced systems (Tier 1’s) in cars were also looking towards Multigig technologies in the coming years, proving a market desire for the technology. Discussion arose on whether the technology is possible at the proposed speed and which media, fibre or copper, would be more predominant. With those discussions, people offered their individual insights on particular products and the options available for them. Based on OEM’s request, it was ultimately finalized that the Ethernet twisted pair be the focus for the physical media right now, with the possibility to include optical at a later date. To summarize, the goal of the study group was to examine all of the possible avenues for the need of the project to be met, and decide collectively on what the objectives needed to be in order to meet this desire. This group was not only given insight on the IEEE standards process but were also told what makes a successful project. The chair of the project, past chairs and veterans of the process also gave insight on how to move the project to the next stage. For the majority of the last day, the objectives of the project were debated. These disputes needed to be resolved before the chair of the study group could present the project at sponsor ballot with clarity. If the objectives are approved and the stakeholders believe the project has the appropriate guidelines and desire in the market, the project advances to a task force. Once they become a task force the group can start creating guidelines for the testing and technical parts of the project.   

It was quite interesting seeing all of the different people from various companies coming together to contribute, dispute, finalize and present a project they believe will be successful.