Any Global Standards?

After reading several discussions about Fahrenheit vs. Celsius and Metric vs. Imperial vs. English, I got to thinking about what truly global standards there are, i.e. what standards have been adopted by every country/organization?

My nomination is for timekeeping - 60 seconds to a minute, 60 minutes to an hour, and 24 hours to a day. While some folks use different dating methods (AD, Julian, Islam, Chinese, etc.) and the time zones wiggle all over the map, does any country use a different standard for basic timekeeping?

Any other global standards out there?

Electrical units for voltage, current, and resistance, are AFAIK, standardized all over the world (as the volt, ampere, and ohm).


Strangely enough, though, the unit of conductance (the reciprocal of resistance) isn’t the same. The old unit is the mho (ohm spelled backwards), while the SI unit is the siemens. However, the conversion factor is exactly 1, so the only difference is the name. I’ve seen both used pretty often.


Sort of depends on what you mean by “global”, I think. The metric system is acknowledged and usable everywhere, as is the Gregorian calendar. Some locations (like the U.S. for the metric system, and Saudi Arabia for the calendar) may have a double standard, but certainly you can get by in the U.S. measuring in metric, and the Muslim countries maintain both calendar systems.

Other areas that have globalized are in the telecommunications set. Audio casettes, for instance, are the same worldwide, while VCR tapes are not. DVDs are identical (although programmed not to play in out-of-continent machines). Telephone sounds (“Push 1 if you’d like our price schedule”) are pretty much universal (except for France). Computer jacks are pretty much standardized, too, I think.

How about The Internet?

Hertz for frequency is another one that’s the same everywhere. Although that’s kinda sorta the same thing as time.

And how about nautical miles and knots? I think they’re used on all sea-going vessels (even metric ones).

English is the standard language for international air traffic control.

What do I mean by global? Standards that have been accepted by all countries/organizations as the standard for routine use with no conversions necessary.

While you can use metric in the US, it is not the standard (except for limited instances like the 2-liter bottle). Conversly, I can use the hour as a measure of time anywhere in the world.

So far we have the following nominations:

  1. Second, Minute, Hour, Day (Week - does everyone agree that a week has seven days?).
  2. Electrical units for voltage, current, and resistance, as the volt, ampere, and ohm.
  3. Certain Internet standards: SMTP, HTTP, FTP
  4. Nautical miles and knots
  5. Audio casettes
  6. DVD encoding (but not players)
  7. Some Personal Computer interfaces (Serial, Parallel, USB)
  8. English for international air traffic control

Here’s a new one - does everyone use the same measurements for Latitude and Longitude?

How about 35mm film?

Are you sure about DVD?

I think it’s the same situation as VHS videotapes: same physical media, different encoding (b/c PAL, NTSC, and SECAM all have different scan rates and line frequencies). The MPEG encoding method for DVDs may be the same, but they’re being encoded for a different output format.

DVDs are either PAL or NTSC. SECAM players read PAL discs and convert, if I’m understanding this right.

“Is DVD a worldwide standard?”, section 1.19 of the DVD FAQ, says:

Another candidate: the GSM mobile-phone standard. GSM systems are running or announced in most countries except Japan, I think.

However, GSM is on a number of different frequency bands; 900MHz, 1800MHz, and 1900MHz are used. GSM on 800MHz has been announced by Nokia, and I believe they were testing GSM on 450 MHz for Scandinavia. Only the frequencies used differ; the rest of the system is the same.

Thanks for the cite, Sunspace.

But I would question GSM. While I now have a GSM phone (in the USA), it is far from being the standard here. I’m quite in the minority, in fact.

It’s rather like drink volumes, etc.–Liters are in use in the U.S., but they’re by no means the ONLY system in use. I think the electrical examples, audiocasettes, etc., are the best ones so far.

Yes… perhaps GSM could be put in the category of “emerging defacto world standard”.

Both Cingular and AT&T (in other words, the users of the IS-136 TDMA digital standard) are going to GSM, in preparation for third-generation digital cellular. GSM-800 will make it easier for GSM to compete with analogue and CDMA for coverage. So the US digital cellphone market may end up divided evenly between a greatly-expanded GSM and the CDMA systems such as Sprint PCS.

Threr are other cellphone standards than GSM in many places, not just the USA, but GSM is benefitting from the ‘network effect’: the bigger it is, the more advantageous it is for others to join it or adapt to it. This is why Windows became a sales success.

But GSM is probably approved as a technical standard in most countries, even if it is does not have coverage in a specific part of, or even an operating network in any part of, a particular country.

See, I think there’s a problem with the definition of << Standards that have been accepted by all countries/organizations as the standard for routine use with no conversions necessary. >>

I think, if it comes to that, there will not be any global standard. I am sure that there are “organizations” that don’t accept the 60-minute hour, for instance. For any standard, you can certainly find fringe organizations or nations that have some other standards.

If you’re talking general acceptance, rather than “all”, I think you’ve got a much longer list, although I’m not sure how you’d define it. The meter is standard usage throughout the scientific world, for instance, as English is the standard language for air traffic control.

I agree it is difficult to define what constitutes a global standard since an organization may decide to use a proprietary standard. So it turns out, we can’t agree on anything.

However, I’ll suggest a new test - I can buy the following items anywhere in the world and be reasonably certain that will work in my home country or previously bought equipment without conversions:

  1. A watch or clock
  2. An audio cassette
  3. Map with Latitude and Longitude
  4. 35mm film

But, I can’t buy a flash for my camera in Europe since the recommended aperture scale will be based on Metric (and I still measure distance in feet). Of course, the scale may have both Metric and Feet and/or I may not mind converting from Feet to Metric when determining the distance to my subject.

Why can’t we just all get along?

A clock that depends on the power line frequency won’t keep the correct time, since 60Hz is used in the US and some other countries, while 50Hz is used in Europe.

However, a voltmeter will read out voltage in the correct units (volts) anywhere, since (AFAIK) there is no other unit to measure voltage.


Latitude and longitude can vary with the datum used.

Latitude and longitude can vary with the datum used.