Masood Shariff: Technical titan

An engineering senior principal in CommScope's system engineering group, Masood Shariff is one of few individuals who can attend a standards meeting today and reflect on how it is similar to, or different from, the very first such meetings.

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An engineering senior principal in CommScope's system engineering group, Masood Shariff is one of few individuals who can attend a standards meeting today and reflect on how it is similar to, or different from, the very first such meetings. "I started work in TIA telecommunications premise standards in 1989 to help with specifications for the first telecommunications cabling administration standard, ANSI/TIA-606," Shariff recalls. "This standard was useful to further establish the paradigm that LAN cabling was a separate entity and needed to be administered carefully to extend its use over several lifecycles of equipment."

And so it began. Shariff subsequently participated in the creation of virtually all the landmark copper-based cabling specifications, as well as others. While some may bemoan the apparently slow pace of standard development today, Shariff recalls at least one example of an extremely efficient creation process under his direction. "Following the publication of the TIA-568 standard, the committee received requests from the IEEE 802.3 to specify LAN cabling for Ethernet and Token Ring applications under development at the time," he says. "I volunteered to chair the LAN data cabling group and the task group forged ahead with rapid interactions using email, fax and telephone discussions between meetings to create and approve TIA TSB-36 containing Category 4 and 5 cable specifications. The whole document was conceived, developed and approved in one TIA TR-41.8 meeting cycle of three months-something that I have never again seen happen over 25 years!"

Category 5 became a runaway success, of course, along with "Base-T" Ethernet applications and the 8-pin modular connector as the user and equipment interface. "This was a major achievement in standardization, which had a huge impact on the growth of balanced twisted-pair cabling and associated applications," Shariff says.

Another crucial document he had a key role in creating was TSB-67, which provided test specifications and instrument specifications for portable field test equipment. "This document was instrumental in ensuring there is a clean handoff from the cabling vendor to the LAN equipment vendor, with no finger-pointing if there was a network problem," he notes. Shariff chaired the effort that resulted in TSB-67.

When TR-42 was formed as its own committee, Shariff was appointed chair of the TR-42.7 copper cabling systems subcommittee. That group, which grew to include more than 30 member companies and commonly had meetings with 50 to 60 people in attendance, further evolved balanced twisted-pair cabling to Category 6 and Category 6A. "The success of TIA TR-42.7 was dependent on attracting and retaining the best and brightest technical experts in the industry to work on exciting new projects," he says. "Creating the right environment in this committee was a large part of its success as the premier standards development organization."

Shariff also participates in the international standards arena, including the ISO committee responsible for creating several customer-owned premises cabling standards for commercial, residential and data center facilities.

"The telecommunications cabling industry has become a key player in the LAN/SAN/MAN networks that have changed the way we live, work and play," he comments. "It is very gratifying to see this industry evolve from scratch to a huge success. Standards have played an important role in this evolution, making the network more interoperable, usable and cost-effective, leading to high-volume adoption by the market. I would like to use this opportunity to salute many key individuals who did amazing technical work in the standards, leading to a huge impact on the market and thereby the success of the cabling industry."

Chief among those individuals is Masood Shariff. He has been called out by many other standards-development contributors as a more-than-effective group leader with the technical expertise to lead the industry into the future, and the gravitas to bring a standards committee to the required consensus. The results of his efforts speak for themselves.

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