Are standards just a reflection of innovation taking place or do they cause innovation by identifying problems and bringing together bright minds to solve them? CEA’s current portfolio of standards projects suggests the answer is both, and often at the same time. It is easy to think of standards as simply documenting the ideas developed by companies so that products work together, information can be shared and bigger markets are created. Writing down what others invented dominates, but there also are many problems solved from scratch in the process. Here is a quick look at some innovative work taking place in CEA standards.
CEA is completing work on a smart grid standard called Modular Communications Interface (MCI) that allows manufacturers to swap out radio and networking modules so that products can be designed independent of the home networking solution. A manufacturer can create a single thermostat that can work on ZigBee, Z-Wave, or Wi-Fi networks by adding the desired radio module before shipping.

MCI began life as a specification of the USNAP (Utility Smart Network Access Port) Alliance. Then electric utilities got interested in its promise to circumvent the problem that manufacturers did not know which home networking technology to build into smart grid products. Alliance members, utilities and others worked together to refine requirements and brought the project to CEA for completion as an ANSI standard. The resulting standard reflects the original USNAP work, which was mostly about radio modules, with new solutions for power line communications.
Problems often land in the laps of standards developers as a downstream effect of innovation— what one might call collateral innovation. The mad dash to deliver 3DTV to consumers had such an outcome. Individual companies worked feverishly to refine 3D display technology and its active and passive eyewear. The HDMI specification was updated to carry stereoscopic 3D video from set-top boxes and Blu-ray Disc players to 3D-capable HDTVs.
CEA’s role was to make sure that the introduction of 3D video did not break the FCC-mandated capability to support closed captions. The engineers who maintain the CEA standard for closed captioning developed various ways to put caption depth information in the TV signal but found only one that would not disrupt existing captions and eventually published a “3D Extension” to the standard. CEA just kicked off a new project to create a standard to define wired headphone, microphone, control signal and antenna compatibility across multiple portable and handheld devices. The pressure to keep devices small means that smartphones must combine many functions on a few connectors. The common 3.5 mm “headphone” jack often supports stereo output, microphone input, control for answering calls or volume and may also allow the headphone wires to serve as an antenna. Although the dimensions of the connector are known, there is not a standard for how to combine these functions. That means no interchangeability among accessories and phones. It’s like agreeing to how wide the lanes should be on a street but not which direction to drive. Companies involved in this standards project will remedy that shortcoming.
There is constant re-invention in the CE industry and that process is reflected in the flow of standards projects at CEA. To learn more, email: standards@