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N° 5 - March 2019 - Standardize digital technology?
Issue editor: Jacques Serris & Laurent Toutain
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Conseil général de l’Économie
We cannot imagine living in a world without standards, where the positions of the brake and accelerator pedals would depend on the automaker, where a toaster would not have the same plug as a coffee-maker! Standards help boost the uses of consumer goods by making interactions easier. They might also be a way to control uses — a point well understood by the manufacturers of printers or razors.
A balance is necessary to preserve an open, neutral system with room for the market to develop but without creating dominant positions. This holds even more in telecommunications: since the Chappe semaphore system or the Morse code, two parties have to agree on a code in order to be able to exchange information.
The quest for this balance can be conducted in a specific market or country or on the whole planet. Even though information and communications technology (ICT) no longer acknowledges borders, worldwide standards may have local applications. In the 1980s, recommendation X.25 for the building of the first computer networks and Minitel allowed enough freedom for several profiles. At the time, French and German terminals were not compatible, and this industry was national. These standards have been brushed aside, replaced with the Internet and local networks which, by uniformizing protocols, allow travelers to connect via Wi-Fi from anywhere on the planet. The result: mass production and considerably lower prices (owing to a reduction of risks) since manufacturers’ offers are technologically compatible.