Emerging Trends | Infrastructure | Network Management
October 29, 2013

Considering the meaning of convergence

By Mostafa Hashem Sherif

Kaleidoscope events are peer-reviewed academic conferences that aim to identify emerging developments in ICTs and, in particular, areas in need of international standards to support the development of successful products and services. For 2014 the theme is Living in a converged world – impossible without standards? The event will be held at the Bonch-Bruevich Saint-Petersburg State University of Telecommunications (SPbSUT), Russian Federation, 3-5 June 2014.

The topic for ITU’s academic conference – Kaleidoscope 2014 – is the role of standards in a converged world. The term “convergence” has been used as a catchall for the complex phenomena associated with diverse content transported over the same network infrastructure, typically based on the Internet Protocol (IP). The term, however, has many semantic shades as will be explained below.

Convergence, according to the Oxford Dictionary of the English language, is a “movement directed toward or terminating in the same point.” In evolutionary biology, convergence is the phenomenon whereby, after living in the same environment, organisms from diverse groups and distinct functions evolve towards similar forms, structures and functions even when they continue to reside in different ecosystems. We have seen both aspects in the field of information and communication technology (ICT) in recent decades, People with diverse technical backgrounds (telecommunications, electronics, software, broadcasting) are now participating in the development ICT standards. In other words, they bring to the table their different relationship to and experience with technology.

A good example is the development of standards for intelligent transport systems (ITS), which demands the participation of automobile manufacturers and safety engineers, while the wide diversity of stakeholders in health care services and systems opens unchartered horizons in terms of complexity. In all these new services, the service definition depends on continuous interactions between the service providers and the users. Thus, ways to bring about the participation of end-users in the definition of new standards are indispensable in order for the standards to be useful and used. This is particularly true to meet the demands of people with disabilities and to enhance access of people from different countries and languages to new technologies. In summary, a perspective centering exclusively on technology will most probably underestimate the importance and significance of human factors.

Another aspect of this “convergence project” is the fusion of technologies at the terminal level. Fusion is “the union or blending together of different things (whether material or immaterial) as if by melting, so as to form one whole”. When a mobile handset incorporates multiple functions such as voice delivery, picture taking, movie recording, music playing and payment functions, each of the original technologies retains its distinctive characteristics or functions. They may even be “sandboxed” for security reasons. In a networked environment, many of these aspects need to be standardized

The interactions between technologies and human factors means that the successful convergence will have to consider aspects of socio-economic, cultural, ethical, legal and sustainable-development policy. All of these are potential topics to explore for those wanting to submit papers to Kaleidoscope 2014.

In addition, below are some other questions to ponder:

  1. Are the types and roles the case of “convergence” standards different than those for “fusion” standards?
  2. What are the effects of social environments on knowledge creation and management for “convergence” projects?
  3. How would software defined networks and network function virtualization affect the rate and nature of convergence?

You have until the submission deadline of 25 November 2013. A prize fund totaling $10,000 will be awarded to the three best papers, which will also be considered for publication in a special edition of IEEE Communications Magazine.

We look forward to your contributions.

By: Mostafa Hashem Sherif

Mostafa Hashem Sherif has been with AT&T in various capacities since 1983. He has a Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles and both an M.Sc. and a B.Sc. from Cairo University, Egypt. He has a M.S. in the Management of Technology from Stevens Institute of Technology, N.J., and is a certified project manager from the Project Management Institute (PMI). He is the author of various technical books and publications and is also a standards editor for the IEEE Communications Magazine, an associate editor of the International Journal of IT Standards & Standardization Research and in the editorial board of the International Journal of Technology Marketing.
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