In association with heise online

13 November 2009, 13:24

IETF working towards royalty-free audio codec

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Nearly one dozen developers want to standardise a royalty-free and non-patented audio codec for internet applications with the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Among them is the chief developer of the Ogg Speex and Ogg CELT open source audio formats, Jean-Marc Valin. The formation of a new working group was agreed at a meeting of the internet standards organisation in Hiroshima. The new working group is to evaluate various proposals by Valin and other developers and combine them into a standards document.

Until recently, the plan to form a working group met with considerable resistance. Among others, former Nokia patent expert and current consultant Stephan Wenger, as well as Huawei representatives, opposed the IETF's proposed involvement in the codec field. John Klensin, a member of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), advocated involving the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) before entering the controversial field of codec standardisation. Similar concerns existed when the W3C tried to anchor the royalty-free Ogg Theora and Ogg Vorbis open source formats into HTML 5 as mandatory codecs.

According to the experts, audio codecs are a mine field for the IETF in various ways. For one thing, the existing codecs are protected by patent and intellectual property (IP) rights, and experts like Wenger consider it virtually impossible to create a truly non-patented codec. For Valin, however, this is one of the project's primary goals. In addition, codecs have thus far been handled by other standardisation bodies like the ITU's working group 16.3.

At the turbulent meeting, the NTT Cyber Space Laboratories' Yusuke Hiwasaki conceded that various ITU member states have voiced concerns about getting the ITU involved in codec standardisation. However, the ITU-T, which deals with standardisations, has offered to cooperate, said Hiwasaki.

The various standards organisations have entered into territorial disputes before, for instance during the development of the Multi Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) protocol, where the ITU wanted to introduce its own Transport MPLS variant. An agreement, however, has since been reached in this matter.

Cisco engineer Peter Saint-Andre, who was one of the main Jabber/XMPP developers, pointed out the urgent need for a good audio codec for open source projects such as XMPP. Christian Hoene, who leads a research group for interactive communication systems at Tübingen University, said that Internet users could benefit from a royalty-free codec that utilises growing bandwidths efficiently. Only poor quality alternatives are currently available to those who don't want use a commercial codec, said Hoene. The researcher also plans to contribute to the development of the IETF codec.

Whether the IETF will finally settle on a single or several draft standards is still being discussed. While Valin has proposed CELT, he told The H's associates at heise Online that Celt might eventually only be one component of the final standard. The IETF is not just to rubber stampPDF a contributed proposal, said Valin. (Monika Ermert)


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