Standardisation - the new innovation

An OBSAI product story
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Edited by the Electronicstalk editorial team Feb 28, 2008

Peter Kenington, Technical Chair of the Open basestation Architecture Initiative, argues that standardisation need not be the enemy of innovation.

One oft-cited maxim in the communications world states that standardisation is the enemy of innovation: its premise is that once something is standardised there is, by definition, no room to alter or improve it and hence no remaining freedom in which to innovate.

Indeed, this is frequently cited as an argument against standardisation - the "fact" that it kills innovation.

What is perhaps more relevant is that once something is standardised, the market for that product can become more commoditised; this is generally good for the customer or consumer and not so good for the profit margins of the supplier.

This "fact" is conveniently overlooked by those opposed to standardisation in a particular area.

The Open Base Station Architecture Initiative (OBSAI) has produced a set of standards for the internal interfaces within a mobile communications basestation.

Far from killing innovation, the advent of the OBSAI standards and their widespread adoption in the industry, has actually stimulated innovation and is enabling groundbreaking infrastructure solutions to find their way into OEM products, much more quickly and easily than would otherwise have been the case.

In an OBSAI-based basestation, such as the Flexi Base-station platform from Nokia Siemens Networks, all the interfaces are defined and these definitions, along with comprehensive test specifications, are publicly available for anyone to download, free of charge.

This enables an innovative startup company to design to a set of requirements for which it knows there is a potential end market and with which it is able to comprehensively demonstrate compliance (by means of the test specifications).

Such a startup can therefore design a product, confident in the knowledge that it can quickly and easily be incorporated into any OEM basestation which follows the OBSAI standard, either to offer a niche solution which the OEM may not have thought of, or to offer a significant benefit in a mainstream product area (eg improved PA efficiency).

As OBSAI is not restricted to a single OEM, this also helps to diversify the product development risk somewhat; a further important benefit to a startup.

From an OEM perspective, it simplifies the testing of a potential new product from a third-party supplier, in a real basestation scenario, as it eliminates the need to spend months educating said supplier in the details of a proprietary interface.

In many cases, the OEM simply doesn't have the time or spare resources to undertake such an activity and this represents a significant barrier to entry for new technologies, in the infrastructure marketplace.

The advent of the OBSAI specifications has allowed a number of startup companies to develop innovative products for the basestation space.

One area, in particular, has benefited greatly from OBSAI's success: remote radio heads.

Two startups that probably would not exist, but for the success of the basestation standardisation process, are Ubidyne and Axis Network Technology.

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