Leaders of 36 IT standards bodies and industry consortia met last week at the Informal Forum Summit of the International Telecommunication Union's Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T), where they shared insights and discussed possible areas of cooperation.

The two-day meeting Thursday and Friday in San Francisco was the second such summit spearheaded by Houlin Zhao, director of the ITU's Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB). The first was in December 2001. Most of the discussion revolved around ways to facilitate communication in the future rather than actual cooperative initiatives between specific bodies, Zhao said in a press briefing at the end of the meeting.

Zhao kicked off the summit initiative in 1999 as a way to improve the ITU-T's relationship with industry forums and their relationships with each other, he said. He also sought to counter the proliferation of industry organizations by helping existing ones work together on new issues.

Organizations represented at last week's summit included the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and 3GPP-2, the International Forum on 4th-Generation Mobile Communications (4G Forum), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the IPv6 Forum, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Systems (OASIS).

Cooperation among such groups can help foster new technologies and the markets for them, participants said.

"Each of us sees the opportunity of working together as a way that we can advance ... products to market. By working together and diminishing the amount of duplication that might otherwise exist, we actually also reduce the cost in some cases," said Ron Young, chairman of the Metro Ethernet Alliance, which helped organize the event.

A broad statement agreed on by the 69 representatives at last week's meeting called for cooperation to increase the collective value of the technologies they work on and allow for a more accessible global information network, Zhao said. It also called for cooperation to accelerate standardization of technologies, share best practices, leverage economies of scale and improve interoperability. The representatives also agreed on some ongoing cooperative activities and areas of interest in which to look for overlap and synergies, which he did not describe in detail.

However, the key product of such meetings could be informal communication between pairs of organizations that leads to more formal cooperation, said Asok Chatterjee, chairman of the Project Coordination Group of the 3GPP.

"Cooperation does not happen just because of one 48-hour period. A 48-hour period sets the ball rolling. It makes things happen because people start thinking in terms of cooperating," Chatterjee said.

For example, the evolution of 3G mobile services required extensions to the IETF's SIP (Session Initiation Protocol). Chatterjee said his group had the expertise to develop those extensions but instead handed its requirements over to the IETF and let that group create the extensions.

"We did not set up a parallel organization ... to do the things that someone else could be doing much faster," Chatterjee said.

Though that arrangement didn't come as a result of an ITU-T Informal Forum Summit, such a meeting could lead to more cooperation.

"This completion of real, everyday work does not happen unless you know the persons that you're dealing with, the persons you can trust, and that's why we're here," he added.

The first Informal Forum Summit was held in December 2001 with 18 forums participating, but as the economy slowed down, half of those either closed down or merged with other groups, said Zhao. Citing the difficulty of getting top executives of so many organizations together at the same time and place, Zhao said another Informal Forum Summit may not happen for another 18 months.