Frame Relay Forum Renews Its Purpose

The Frame Relay Forum has set itself a new goal: to clarify its stance on quality of service (QoS).

Rather than shut down the forum's technical committee, as some industry observers thought they should, forum members voted to bolster the committee and spell out how to preserve QoS across frame-relay gear made by different vendors.

Members voiced that desire in response to a survey conducted earlier this month prompted by the group's technical committee chairman, who questioned whether the forum should abandon its technical work altogether (NW, May 31, 1998, page 1).

Members say specifications outlining how to implement QoS over frame relay networks are scattered among formal Frame Relay Forum technical specifications and lack cohesion, according to forum President Lori Dreher.

QoS is a valuable tool for supporting service-level agreements that service providers offer to customers. The forum is made up of about 150 service providers and makers of frame relay gear.

While it cannot set standards, the forum does issue what it calls "implementation agreements," which bridge the gap between frame relay standards set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and specifications that vendors need to make interoperable frame relay gear.

Without a clear statement on QoS, it is difficult for vendors to make equipment that conforms to QoS policies set by other vendors' gear. The QoS issue could be cleared up with something as simple as a white paper that pulls together in one place the QoS references that are scattered among the forum's implementation agreements, Dreher says.

The forum might also decide that it is worth a separate implementation agreement just to deal with QoS, she says.

In addition to working on QoS, forum members say they want the committee to write specifications on interworking frame relay with a particular ATM service quality known as available bit rate. Such interworking is important to maintaining QoS when traffic crosses between frame relay and ATM networks.

Members also want to determine how frame relay should interwork with IP, again to address QoS issues. Members rejected the idea of widening the focus of the forum from frame relay to include broadband protocols in general.

Technical work is clearly what members want the forum to focus on, Dreher says. Other priorities include educational programs, market research and public demonstrations of frame-relay technology.

One of the frustrations voiced last spring by technical committee Chairman Doug O'Leary was that the forum had become difficult and time-consuming to reach consensus on implementation agreements.

To address that concern, the forum has agreed to change the structure of its committee meetings. During the first day of meetings, small groups of members who are intensely interested in a specific proposal will meet to discuss it. They will then report their progress to the full committee later during the meeting.

That will replace the procedure of discussing all business in front of the whole group, which is more time-consuming, Dreher says. The new format will be tried out at the committee's scheduled meeting in October.

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