What is interoperability?

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

The benefits of interoperability

Interoperability means that:

  • users have a much greater choice of products
  • 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 it is market demand that has ensured that interoperability holds a prominent position in standardization.

The role of standards in achieving interoperability

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 indeed achieve interoperability.

The role of testing in 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 avoid dissatisfied customers.

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

ETSI's focus on interoperability

ETSI contributes to the goal of interoperability in a number of ways:

  • Our technical standards and reports lay down the essential parameters for products and systems, and help designers and manufacturers to understand the intended functions and interactions of the devices they are creating. 
  • Good technical quality is essential in any standard. Our standards documents are clearly written, well-structured, and we try to make them easy to understand. We work hard to avoid ambiguities, errors, unclear requirements, conflicting options and other factors that could lead to non-interoperability.
  • Specialized tools and languages. No matter how well written the documents, natural languages (English, in the case of ETSI’s publications) are not always adequate to describe complex interactions. Our methods therefore also provide for the application, where appropriate, of modelling techniques, tools and specialized specification and testing languages. Our Centre for Testing and Interoperability (CTI) provides the necessary expertise.
  • Testing is an important part of providing a guarantee of interoperability. Reflecting the principle ‘test the components first, then test the system’, ETSI focuses on two different, complimentary types of test activity: conformance testing and interoperability testing. The feedback from interoperability events is also extremely valuable in helping to validate the standards themselves. As an independent organization, we do not endorse any product based on an ETSI standard, nor do we provide certification services.
  • Test specifications provide guidance on how compliance with the technical standards and reports can be verified rigorously and repeatedly in a product or service. The development of standardized test specifications is therefore an integral part of our strategy for ensuring interoperability. 

Our Centre for Testing and Interoperability (CTI) supports our technical committees in the application of testing and interoperability in standards. Its principal task is the planning and development of conformance and interoperability test specifications. The CTI is a world-leader in the use of specification languages, the application of validation, analysis and simulation techniques and in interoperability testing. Working in co-operation with our technical committees, the Centre organizes interoperability test events, or Plugtests™, for a wide range of ICT implementations.