June 2009

CLEI Codes

Still Coding after all these Years: CLEI Codes Prove Relevance by Creating Common Identificaiton Standard

By: Lorrie Delk Walker

Imagine walking into a library without the Dewey Decimal System and attempting to find a specific book. Chances are you would be there all day trying to find what you needed.

Just as the Dewey Decimal System provides rhyme and reason to how books are classified, Common Language® CLEI™ codes make it possible to identify, catalog and track items related to the telecommunications industry. “It is the de facto standard used in telecommunications to identify a piece of equipment in the field,” says Joe Siernos, owner of Stogas, a North Brunswick, NJ company that specializes in CLEI and HECI- Human-readable Equipment Catalog Item- barcode labels.

CLEI is a trademarked acronym that stands for “Common Language Equipment Identifier.” It is a 10-character, alpha-numeric code. CLEI codes were invented during the days of the big AT&T conglomerate, when a system was needed to identify locations, connections, facilities and equipment, Siernos says. They needed any worker to be able to look at the code and make sense of it, which is done with the help of mnemonics.

Codes were used throughout entire operating systems, including TIRKS™- the Trunk Integrated Record Keeping System- which is the inventory and provisioning system AT&T and the Regional Bell Operating Companies used to keep track of all equipment, circuits and facilities that they have “either in service or spare,” he says. This is where information on equipment, circuits and facilities is stored. This system remains in use today.

CLEI codes also are used in PICS- the Plug-In Control System- which is used for the tracking of plug-ins, modules and cards that would eventually need to be sent to a central office or customer premises to be installed.


CLEI and HECI codes virtually are the same, Siernos says, adding that HECI is a field in TIRKS “that is populated with a CLEI code.” For example, if a Multiplexer is sold to Verizon and Verizon asks for the HECI code of that piece of equipment, the seller would need to furnish the CLEI code of that item.

CLEI Standards

Today, any telecom equipment manufacturer such as Nokia-Siemens, AlcatelLucent and Cisco are required to obtain a CLEI code for each piece of equipment they intend to sell to a service provider that licenses the CLEI service from Telcordia Technologies. Once a manufacturer registers the product and gets the CLEI code, the manufacturer is required to place a CLEI code label on the product, Siernos says. “They have to apply a physical label to the product before it arrives at the customer’s site,” he says. “This is for the inventory function, so the customer can scan the code and put the product in their warehouse or send out to the field.” It also is an integral part of the billing system, Siernos says, because without receipt of the item, the manufacturer may be delayed in getting paid.

There also are other codes built into the CLEI code that assist in asset tracking, help facilitate inventory, ordering, provisioning, maintenance, repair and planning. CLEI codes also serve a valuable role in disaster recovery by helping to identify lost equipment, Siernos says. For example, if a service provider puts a piece of equipment into service in a building and the next day the building burns down, the CLEI code helps provide substantial evidence and supporting information about the equipment.

Siernos says CLEI codes are as important in the telecom industry as barcodes on food labels are in the grocery industry. “The CLEI is like the telecom version of the UPC code,” he says.
Without CLEI codes, it would be nearly impossible to manage the network’s operation. Why? “If Whole Foods ordered a case of organic cereal and it came without any identification code they are used to, how would they log that item into their system?” Siernos questions. “The same goes for service providers and the CLEI codes.”

Other Benefits

CLEI codes have many other benefits, including helping to consolidate sourcing efforts. If every reseller had its own system of identifying a piece of equipment without a standard identifier, there would be numerous identifiers for that piece of equipment, Siernos says, adding, “You need to have the full 10-character CLEI code to get the same part number each time; it’s a one-to-one relationship.”
The CLEI codes also simplify the end-user buying process. Often, service providers go to resellers when they no longer can get the equipment from the manufacturer because it has been discontinued. Because service providers speak in CLEI code, they typically send their request for information or request for quote to the reseller and notify the reseller that they need a certain number of pieces of a particular type of equipment. “If the reseller does not know how to interpret the CLEI code, they won’t know what the service provider is looking for,” he says.
The CLEI code also simplifies the business-to-business process. For example, if a reseller gets an RFI and determines he doesn’t have the product in question, he can call another reseller, provide the CLEI code and see if they have the product. This common code makes it easier for businesses to communicate amongst themselves, Siernos says, adding that CLEI codes also allow for easier part tracking.

Today, CLEI codes are required on equipment before it is sold to a licensed service provider, he says, and service providers aren’t the only ones using them these days. Cable companies who have ventured into providing telecom service and other companies that need to keep track of or identify their data infrastructure with locations, wires between locations and equipment hooked up to those wires also use CLEI. “Each item needs to have its own name, and that’s what common language does,” Siernos says.

Even so, there are some who argue against the usefulness of CLEI codes today. “The camp that would say these codes aren’t needed anymore would be Tier 2 or Tier 3 type service providers that aren’t using a common language system to identify equipment,” he says. “They probably are using their own homegrown systems.”

But there is evidence that these systems aren’t as useful as CLEI codes, Siernos says. Years ago, MCI had its own way of identifying equipment. “Manufacturers were pulling their hair out because if they sold equipment to Verizon, they were required to put a CLEI label on it,” he says. “But if they sold it to MCI, they had to follow the requirements and put MCI’s black and orange inventory label on it, which was costly for the manufacturer to constantly switch back and forth.”

The CLEI code has helped service providers, manufacturers and resellers because it created a standard way to identify a piece of equipment no matter where it is, Siernos says.