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Phone gear makers sweat the small stuff

Just as PC makers did in the '80s, companies that make the gear that goes into phone networks are agreeing on a standard way to work out the nitty-gritty details of their products.

Just as PC makers did in the '80s, companies that make the equipment that goes into telephone networks are agreeing on a standard way to organize the innards of their products.

About 100 companies, including Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Motorola, have now agreed to follow the Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture when working out nitty-gritty details such as the size, number and shape of circuit board slots inside telephone networking gear, an Intel representative said Tuesday.

The effort has a historical parallel in the personal computer industry of two decades ago, when most computer makers used slightly different designs in their products, such as differently shaped motherboards. It took about 10 to 15 years to accomplish, but PC makers eventually settled on many of the same design elements, bringing down costs.

Like their PC making counterparts, the telephone-network-equipment industry sees a common architecture as a cost-cutting move, hoping a standard set of blueprints for telephone network gear will eliminate the expensive testing now required to ensure that equipment works with other manufacturers' products.

Gear makers using the ATCA standard can concentrate on functions that differentiate their products, rather than sweat the small stuff like what power supply or chassis to use, according to Sean Maloney, general manager of Intel's Communication Group.

"Waste is when you have five or six companies putting 1,000 people to work on the same thing," Maloney said.

The standard is approved by the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group, an organization that develops open specifications for high-performance telecommunications and industrial computing equipment and counts 600 companies among its ranks.

The first products using the ATCA standard could be available as soon as May, to the PCI Web site.

News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.