Editor: The TDI Workshop entitled “International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Standards” was a panel discussion moderated by Andrea Saks, TDI’s ITU representative. The panelist were:
– Dick Brandt, retired communications consultant
– Michael J. Day, Product Manager for British Telecom (BT) TextDirect
– George Skorkowski, founder and managing director of DSPG Ltd.
– Paul E. Jones, ITU contributor
“International Standards – What do They Mean to Me as a Deaf Person?”
by Dick Brandt
When mainstream society doesn’t develop solutions that accommodate the deaf, they often develop their own answers. Baudot code for TTYs is an example. But it doesn’t work with other coding systems. A similar situation happened with early modems – each modem had a different protocol and they didn’t work together.
Europe used DTMF (touch tone phone protocol), others used various versions of the V series protocols, but most were used in non-standard way, and most didn’t communicate with the others.
The identification of the Problem
Judy Harkins came to me in 1991 when I was chairman of the T.30 committee, and I was astounded. I was totally unaware that there was a problem for the deaf community. She said they want to get a modem so people can use a TTY to communicate with other TTYs or with a computer.
We started with TR30
The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) oversees TR30. We wanted to have the TIA take this issue to the ITU and get it to be a worldwide standard. (The ITU is part of UN).
So we went to the State Dept, and they approved the concept. Later the ITU said they would approve it, and this was the start of V.18. I became aware of all the different protocols, and the fact that some are not even modem protocols (like DTMF).
It took five years to get the first standard out, and when we finished, we had a modem on paper only. But all the manufacturers said they would incorporate our standard in their modems, so all modems would allow communication with the deaf. At that time modems were expensive, costing $200 to 300 each.
Just after we got those promises, modems became a commodity and prices dropped very low. The modem manufacturers couldn’t afford to incorporate V.18. But it wasn’t a total loss, because V.18 became a building block, and lots of its pieces were in use.
But the biggest change was the culture change. Before that time, we and the ITU were totally unaware of the deaf community. Now the ITU has a group working on disability issues. That experience also woke up advocacy groups in the US; they realized they needed to be involved in these processes early.
So the ITU now includes advocates for all disabilities, and solutions to their needs are designed in. Appropriate international standards mean access for all to the information highways of the future. Gallaudet University has people who are involved with the working groups, so let them know your concerns and ideas.
“Total Conversation through ITU-T Standards – Sign, Type, and Speak – YOU Decide”
by Paul Jones, Cisco Systems
We want to get to a place where any device can talk to any other, so we have universal communications connectivity.
The ITU-T is working on standards that will converge voice and data (including text).
Service definitions F.700 and F.703 talk about text and video as components of multimedia.
Popular multimedia systems include H.323, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP – from the IETF), H.320 (an ISDN based room teleconferencing standard) and H.324 (this is less known, but gaining popularity, especially in the mobile market).
The main problem with these systems is that they generally don’t consider the needs of the deaf. For example, current multimedia efforts focus on video and sound, with little or no support for text.
Some of the newer standards are more aware of disability access requirements. For example, a new H series supplement raises awareness about video quality requirements for sign language and lip reading, and the T.140 standard (supported by H.323 and SIP) supports Unicode for text conversations.
Between 1997 and 2000 we tried to integrate text into the systems, and today H.323 and SIP support real-time text.
We know how to solve the problem; now we need to educate the market and the industry about the issues. The ITU-T has made an effort to do this.
Video Conferencing is still largely used by people who must have the same equipment. It’s not tied into larger public communications networks, and you won’t find one service provider’s IP phone calling the phone of a different provider. This will come eventually.
We need to develop gateways to tie various networks together.
Voice over IP (VoIP) has been in development since the late 90s, so it’s still in its infancy compared to the public telephone switched network (PTSN); it uses the IP network (Internet) to carry voice calls. Many “normal” calls go over IP today, and people don’t even know it.
One of the major forces behind the use of VoIP is the desire of providers to merge existing networks. It’s much easier to maintain one network than two. This convergence might also be good for the consumer, because it makes it easier to add text support to all communications protocols that use the network.
Problems result in VoIP application when TTY calls are routed over IP; it results in garbled text. New standards that address this issue are being developed, with a target completion date of January 2004. The new standard is being referred to as Text over IP (ToIP) and is characterized by:
1. Character by character text communications (just like a TTY)
2. Simultaneous 2-way conversation, along with voice and video
3. Standardization on an international character set (Unicode)
4. Support all standard devices in ITU-T V.18
5. Allow different types of TTY to communicate through different gateways.
The ultimate goal is to have any device supported by the network, so it can communicate with any other device. This requires us to build gateways that accommodate all protocols. The best way to accomplish that is to have vendors of all the various devices represented on the standards bodies.