IETF, ITU Agree on Convergence Standards

Longtime adversaries the International Telecommunication Union and the Internet Engineering Task Force have called a truce.

Speaking at the 45th IETF meeting here in Oslo, ITU Director Houlin Zhao said the two standards bodies would work together on emerging telecom protocols.

"The ITU is totally changing as of May 2000," said Zhao, who heads up the telecommunications standards efforts at the ITU. "We are looking at a new structure."

The two organizations have had strained relationships lately because of the impending combination of voice and data networks. The ITU, which has been around since the early days of voice networks, has been reluctant to accept data networks as the infrastructure for convergence. And the IETF has pushed forward with voice/data standards without the expertise of traditional voice proponents.

"It marks, in a sense, then end of an age," says IETF Chairman Fred Baker. "At one time, there was significant bad blood between ITU-T and the IETF, in both directions."

IETF members said the shift in attitude is important if the ITU is to play an important role in the Internet.

As part of the change, ITU study group chairs will meet with IETF area directors to make sure that overlaps in standards are addressed.

Also, in a historical moment, Zhao invited the almost 2,000 IETF members present to attend ITU meetings and said he would encourage his members to attend IETF meetings.

He also said that the ITU and IETF would begin to share standard drafts.

"This is important because the Internet and the global telecommunications backbone are increasingly becoming closely related and the bodies that define them must work together in order for either to handle the current change in the right way," Baker says.

The first signs of this cooperation surfaced in the media gateway control working group, which is creating a standard for users to place voice calls from a traditional telephone that could then ride over the Internet.

The working group is joining with the H.323 videoconferencing proponents in the ITU to flesh out the standard.

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