What are standards?

In simple terms, a standard is a document that provides rules or guidelines to achieve order in a given context.

One dictionary definition that comes close to ETSI’s interpretation is: “a document specifying nationally or internationally agreed properties of manufactured goods, principles for procedure, etc”. (New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary)

ETSI’s rules for drafting standards available via the ETSI Portal amplify this a little: “a document, established by consensus and approved by a recognized body, that provides, for common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results, aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context”. (Derived from ISO/IEC Guide 2:1996, definition 3.2)

Standards serve a variety of purposes

In the domain of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), which is ETSI's area of competence, standards have special significance:

  • They address especially the needs for interconnection and interoperability. This is particularly important for open markets, where users, who are increasingly mobile, can ‘mix and match’ equipment and services, and where suppliers can benefit from economies of scale.
  • Standards are equally important for ensuring safety, reliability and environmental care.
  • They are also frequently referenced by regulators and legislators for protecting user and business interests, and in support of government policies.

Standards bring numerous benefits to business and society.

The power and authority of standards

Standards are produced for many different products and services, and may be created for company, national, regional or global application. They may be used on a voluntary basis, or made mandatory by company policy, national or international regulation, or by law.

In Europe there are three different categories of standard:

  • international standard – a standard adopted by an international standardization organization
  • European standard – a standard adopted by a European standardization body
  • national standard – a standard adopted by a national standardization body and made available to the public

However, although ETSI is a regional standards organization with a traditional focus on Europe, it encourages global adoption of its standards where appropriate, and many ETSI standards are used worldwide.