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Why standards

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A standard is a document that provides rules or guidelines to achieve order in a given context.

ETSI’s rules for drafting standards 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 have special significance in the domain of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), which is ETSI's area of competence:

  • addressing needs for interconnection and interoperability which is particularly important for open markets, where mobile users can ‘mix and match’ equipment and services, and where suppliers can benefit from economies of scale
  • important for ensuring safety, reliability and environmental care
  • 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. ETSI is a recognized European Standardization Organization and it encourages global adoption of its standards where appropriate. Many ETSI standards are used worldwide.

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

Benefits of standards

We use standards every day, in all aspects of our daily lives – in communications, media, healthcare, food, transport, construction, furniture, energy…

Standards provide:

  • Safety and reliability– raising user confidence, increasing sales and the take-up of new technologies
  • Support of government policies and legislation– Standards are frequently referenced by regulators and legislators for protecting user and business interests, and to support government policies, for example the European Union's policy for a Single Market
  • Interoperability– the ability of devices working together
  • Business benefits to:
    • Open market access
    • Provide economies of scale
    • Encourage innovation
    • Increase awareness of technical developments and initiatives
  • Consumer choice - standards provide the foundation for new features and options, contributing to the enhancement of our daily lives. Mass production based on standards provides a greater variety of accessible products to consumers.

A good example of the power of standardization is the GSMTM mobile communication technology and its successors (3G, 4G, 5G...), truly global phenomena, in which ETSI has and is still playing a leading role. Although GSM was originally envisaged as a solution just for Europe, these technologies have been deployed world-wide. As a result, travellers today can communicate and use familiar services in every corner of the world – all thanks to standardization.

ETSI can boast many other similar success stories including, for example, Smart CardsDECTTMTETRAShort Range Radiomedical implantselectronic signatures....

In a world without standards:

  • products might not work as expected or be of inferior quality
  • products might be incompatible with other equipment or may not even connect with them
  • non-standardized products may be dangerous
  • customers would be restricted to one manufacturer or supplier
  • manufacturers would be obliged to invent their own individual solutions with limited opportunity to compete with others

Standards for the Single Market

The creation of a European Single Market is a central policy of the European Union.

One of the key mechanisms to turn the political ambition into practical action is standardization. Standards, such as Harmonised Standards produced by ETSI, contribute to single market initiatives by proposing commonly-agreed technical solutions that lead to harmonization.

ETSI produces Harmonised Standards to support European Directives related to:

  • Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment (R&TTE, being replaced by a Radio Equipment Directive)
  • Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC)
  • access to emergency services 

We also contribute to safety standards produced in our sister European Standardization Organization, Cenelec.

All Member States of the European Union must allow a product to be placed on the market and used in their territories if it complies with the relevant Directives. Harmonised Standards enable manufacturers, suppliers, networks operators and others to prove their products’ compliance with the relevant Directives.

We also support the Single European Sky initiative by preparing Community Specifications for the civil aviation sector in co-operation with the European Organization for Civil Aviation Equipment, EUROCAE.

Interoperability & testing

In a world of converging yet diverse technologies, complex ICT systems must communicate and interwork on all levels – this is interoperability.

Interoperability means that users have a much greater choice of products and manufacturers can benefit from the economies of scale that a wider market brings.

Interoperability is therefore a crucial factor in the success of modern technologies, and market demand has ensured that interoperability holds a prominent position in standardization.

One of the key motives for the development of ICT standards is to facilitate interoperability between products in a multi-vendor, multi-network and multi-service environment.

Complex products and systems are often based on multiple standards from several standards-making organizations, including ETSI, or on requirements published by industrial fora. Collaboration between standards groups is therefore vital.

In addition, standards themselves need to be designed and tested to ensure that products and services complying with them do achieve interoperability.

Testing of products and systems to verify their interoperability is critical to their success – ideally this should take place throughout their development. Eliminating basic interoperability problems at an early stage helps reduce costs and to avoid dissatisfied customers.

A standardized approach to testing is essential if the results are to be trusted.

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