World Standards Day on October 14th gives us plenty of opportunity to celebrate the many benefits of technology standards such as 5G. Standards enable interoperability between devices; they allow product manufacturers to benefit from considerable economies of scale; they ensure there is a high level of safety and reliability in technologies; and they give R&D specialists an opportunity to focus on their strengths in developing foundational innovation while OEMs can focus on making great devices.
However, with sustainability a big focus for World Standards Day, I would argue that the benefits that standards bring to the global efforts to work towards a more sustainable world, particularly in terms of economic development and climate change, are not well understood.
In many parts of North America, Europe and Asia, we often take for granted the kind of connectivity that we have enjoyed from 1G all the way through to today’s 5G and from every version of the WiFi standard. But, in other, less economically advanced regions, connectivity can help change people’s lives by giving them access to much-needed services.
According to the GSMA’s 2023 Mobile Industry Impact Report, 1.5 billion of the world’s poorest people use mobile internet, 2.3 billion use mobile to access educational information for themselves or their children, and 2.6 billion use mobile financial services.
None of this would be possible without the foundational innovation and standards development that companies like InterDigital carry out and which connects our devices to global 5G, WiFi and other networks.
But standards don’t just drive sustainable development by enabling economic growth and opening up new opportunities for underserved communities. They can also make a significant contribution to lowering energy usage in many of the smartphones, consumer electronics devices and other connected products that we use today.
Some key stakeholders have recognized the role that standards can play. For instance, as part of its standardization strategy, the European Commission has highlighted the importance of standards in supporting the continent’s substantial investments in its transition to a greener society.
At InterDigital, our engineers are acutely aware of the need for more sustainable innovation as we face the challenges of a warming planet and I am proud of our leadership in the development of more energy efficient technologies.
For example, in recent years, engineers from our video research lab led an effort to ensure that energy consumption is considered when distributing video content. While the impact of the full digital video distribution chain is mainly driven by consumers, it is important for InterDigital to take a lead in educating the wider video ecosystem.
This is why our engineers initiated work in high-level standards such as ITU, ATSC, DVB as well as more technical standards such as MPEG. At the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) we have contributed to reports and recommendations in the areas of video and program production. In MPEG we have led the MPEG green effort for transmitting information all along the video chain to make energy reduction feasible. Our engineers have also developed Pixel Value Reduction (PVR) solutions which can help reduce the energy consumption of video screens by intelligently optimizing pixel brightness for screens.
Our leadership has not gone unnoticed. Earlier this year InterDigital was recognized by LexisNexis as one of the top 100 companies whose innovation is helping progress towards achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
By making considerations such as energy usage a key part of the standards development process, we can make a powerful impact on the tech industry’s and the world’s broader sustainability targets. I would also argue that a company like InterDigital, one that is purely focused on research and not biased by trying to advance technologies for the benefit of a specific product, plays a particularly important role in ensuring that standards are developed with sustainability firmly in mind.
But it is also clear that more needs to be done. The GSMA’s report shows that the mobile industry’s contributions to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 became stalled in 2022. The lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and other developments have halted progress, according to the GSMA.
Mobile is just one part of the standards-based ecosystem but the wireless space is an excellent example of where innovation can contribute to hitting sustainability targets.
That is why I firmly believe that now more than ever, stakeholders should do all they can to protect and promote global, standardized technologies. If we are to fully meet the very grave sustainability challenges that we face, then the kind of collaborative, consensus-based innovation which characterizes standards development, surely offers one of the best paths forward.
As we mark this year’s World Standards Day, it is worth celebrating the crucial role standards play in facilitating the global spread of advanced technologies and new devices while continually laying the groundwork for what comes next. By ensuring interoperability, standards provide the bedrock for entire technology ecosystems, on top of which trillions of dollars of economic activity might be built.
The importance of standards is only growing. We are sitting on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution during which we expect to see rapid advances in the digitalization of broad swaths of the global economy from manufacturing to healthcare, and from transportation to energy. This shift will be enabled in large part by the ongoing advances being made in the standardized technologies in cellular wireless, WiFi, and in video.
At a time of heightened geopolitical tensions, it is also worth stressing that standards are a byword for global cooperation. Companies, academia, and other stakeholders cooperate with each other at the technical level in order to advance the best solutions for each design requirement. This process is highly competitive and only the best advances make the grade.
Of course, participants are not just participating for personal glory. Standards thrive because of commercial incentives and the promise of advancing existing markets or developing new ones. That’s true for device manufacturers but also for those companies that invest heavily in associated R&D, engage in the standards process, and then license their related standard essential patents to OEMs.
At InterDigital we have been carrying out scientific research in standards-based connected technologies on a commercial basis for the majority of our 50-year existence. Many of our engineers have held leadership positions in various SDOs and our years of research have helped us build a portfolio of more than 28,000 patents. Today the company is recognized as one of the principal contributors to standards in a broad range of connected technologies.
InterDigital's business model is built on investment in foundational scientific research, active participation in standards development organizations worldwide, and the licensing of the company’s innovation to companies that implement this tech in their devices, such as smartphones, laptops and TVs.
Recently this work has been given even greater significance as governments around the world have emphasized the importance of standardized technologies.
In the U.S., the Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Kathi Vidal, has been leading the charge in pushing American companies to be more closely involved in standards development. Recently she wrote that the U.S. must, “Continue to encourage U.S. participation in standard-setting organizations and the efficient and effective adoption of those technologies by our industries, as part of our efforts to promote innovation in the standards space and drive sustainable, long-term growth in the U.S. economy.”
I couldn’t agree more. And to put that long-term growth into perspective, according to a recent report from ABI Research, 5G is forecast to create $7 trillion in economic value in 2030 alone.
As a U.S. headquartered company, we at InterDigital understand the importance that standards can play in a country’s economic resilience. But we also appreciate that standards contribute the most to the world economy when they are global in scope and collaborative by nature. On this World Standards Day that is a message that’s worth reiterating.