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About 3GPP

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) unites [Seven] telecommunications standard development organizations (ARIB, ATIS, CCSA, ETSI, TSDSI, TTA, TTC), known as “Organizational Partners” and provides their members with a stable environment to produce the Reports and Specifications that define 3GPP technologies.

The project covers cellular telecommunications network technologies, including radio access, the core transport network, and service capabilities - including work on codecs, security, quality of service - and thus provides complete system specifications. The specifications also provide hooks for non-radio access to the core network, and for interworking with Wi-Fi networks.

3GPP specifications and studies are contribution-driven, by member companies, in Working Groups and at the Technical Specification Group level.

The Four Technical Specification Groups (TSG) in 3GPP are;

  • Radio Access Networks (RAN),
  • Service & Systems Aspects (SA),
  • Core Network & Terminals (CT) and
  • GSM EDGE Radio Access Networks (GERAN).

The Working Groups, within the TSGs, meet regularly and come together for their quarterly TSG Plenary meeting, where their work is presented for information, discussion and approval.

 Each TSG has a particular area of responsibility for the Reports and Specifications within its own Terms of Reference (Details available in the Specification Groups pages).

The last meeting of the cycle of Plenary meetings is TSG SA, which also has responsibility for the overall coordination of work and for the monitoring of its progress.

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The 3GPP technologies from these groups are constantly evolving through Generations of commercial cellular / mobile systems (see table below). Since the completion of the first LTE and the Evolved Packet Core specifications, 3GPP has become the focal point for mobile systems beyond 3G.

Although these Generations have become an adequate descriptor for the type of network under discussion, real progress on 3GPP standards is measured by the milestones achieved in particular Releases. New features are ’functionality frozen’ and are ready for implementation when a Release is completed. 3GPP works on a number of Releases in parallel, starting future work well in advance of the completion of the current Release. Although this adds some complexity to the work of the groups, such a way of working ensures that progress is continuous & stable.

Backward Compatibility

The major focus for all 3GPP Releases is to make the system backwards and forwards compatible where-ever possible, to ensure that the operation of user equipment is un-interrupted. A good current example of this principle has been the priority placed in the working groups on backward compatibility between LTE and LTE-Advanced, so that an LTE-A terminal can work in an LTE cell and an LTE terminal works in the LTE-A cell.

Radio Access Milestones

3GPP Technical Specification Group RAN, like other TSGs, ensures that systems based on 3GPP specifications are capable of rapid development and deployment with the provision of global roaming of equipment. Some of the headline 3GPP radio technologies and systems over the recent Releases have been:

releases 2015

All of these advances have provided a high degree of continuity in the evolving systems, allowing existing equipment to be prepared for future features and functionality - delivering higher data rates, quality of service and cost efficiencies.

Each progressive 3GPP radio access technology aims to reduce complexity and avoid fragmentation of technologies on offer.

Former RAN Chairman, Takahiro Nakamura, has identified LTE and SAE standardization in Release 8 as the most significant Milestone achieved to date in the project. This has been demonstrated by the increase in 3GPP participation since the initial Workshop on the Evolved UTRAN, in 2005 and the subsequent market success of LTE.
This success brings its own challenges and Mr Nakamura has identified the rise of the smart phone and its data usage as one of the greatest challenges for the future. He comments that “Operators need to work on the problems created in signalling and the volume of data being carried. So, further enhancements to the 3GPP system are being driven by that data explosion”.

From 3GPP Release 10 onwards - 3GPP LTE-Advanced has been approved by ITU Radiocommunication Sector as a ITU-R IMT-Advanced Radio Interface Technology. The LTE standard now provides for peak speeds of 100 Mbit/s for high mobility and 1 Gbit/s for low mobility communication.

Core Network Evolution

GSM networks used circuit-switch telephony initially, with packet-switching added with GPRS. In the UMTS architecture, this dual-domain concept was kept on the core network side. Some network elements were evolved, but the concept remained very similar.

When considering the evolution of the 3G system, towards LTE, the 3GPP community decided to use IP (Internet Protocol) as the key protocol to transport all services. It was therefore agreed that the Evolved Packet Core (EPC) would not have a circuit-switched domain but that the EPC should be an evolution of the packet-switched architecture used in GPRS/UMTS.

This decision had consequences on the architecture itself but also on the way that the services were provided. Traditional use of circuits to carry voice and short messages needed to be replaced by IP-based solutions in the long term... Read more on the EPC at

Atle Monrad, the 3GPP CT Chairman considers the completion of the Core Network protocols for LTE and the start of fully deployed packed based mobile systems, including voice over IP (VoLTE / IR.92) as major milestones for the industry and for 3GPP. 

click to see EPC web page

Generations of Mobile Systems

GenerationMajor Systems Milestones
1G Analogue technology, from the 1980s on-wards.

Various technologies were deployed, Nationally or Regionally, including:
NMT (Nordic Mobile Telephone), AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone System), TACS (Total Access Communications System), A-Netz to E-Netz, Radiocom 2000, RTMI (Radio Telefono Mobile Integrato), JTACS (Japan Total Access Communications System) and TZ-80n (Source:wikipedia)
2G First digital systems, deployed in the 1990s introducing voice, SMS and data services.
The Primary 2G technologies are:

GSM/GPRS accounts for over 80% of all 2G subscribers (Source:wikipedia)
3G Allowed a global vision for the evolution of 2G networks, with technologies that are enhancing theIMT-2000 family of systems.
Primary technologies are EDGE (Enhanced Data for GSM), CDMA2000 1X/EVDO, UMTS-HSPA+
Moving beyond 3G LTE and LTE-Advanced have crossed the “generational boundary” offering the next generation(s) of capabilities. With their capacity for high speed data, significant spectral efficiencies and adoption of advanced radio techniques, their emergence is becoming the basis for all future mobile systems.

It should be noted that LTE-Advanced has qualified as an ITU-R IMT-Advanced radio interface

What comes next?

3GPP Release 12 has a Functional freeze date (including stable protocols) by September 2014. It encompasses nearly 200 new top-level ‘Features’, resulting in a wide variety of new functionality and improvements to existing features, reflected in thousands of new or updated specifications. Release 12 also includes 60 new studies (Published in Technical Reports - TRs).

A significant proportion of 3GPP’s recent work has been focused on channel aggregation, to meet the growing demands of data transmission. Other priorities in the radio aspects area include topics related to higher data rates and increased capacity, either by the use of more frequency bands, or by further improvements in spectral efficiency. 3GPP will address energy saving, cost efficiency (including the use of Self-Optimising Networks (SON)), support for diverse application and traffic types, and backhaul enhancements. 

In the systems area, 3GPP is looking at promoting new business opportunities, in public safety and critical communications, proximity services and machine-type communications. In the area of WiFi integration, 3GPP will work on network selection aspects, S2a mobility with the GPRS Tunnelling Protocol (GTP) for WLANs, and optimised offloading to WLAN in 3GPP Radio Access Technology (RAT) mobility. In the area of system capacity and stability, issues of user-plane congestion  and core network overload will be addressed.

At the end of 2013, ETSI held a Future Mobile Summit, to look at the longer term future. The Summit provided many thought provoking presentations on the direction that 3GPP could take, beyond LTE-Advanced. 

For details of the contents of each Release, see the appropriate ’Release Description’ document (see link at bottom of this page).

Details of all 3GPP Work Items are in the 3GPP Work Plan, which provides details of the co-operation between all of the 3GPP groups on "Features", defined as ’new or substantially enhanced functionality which represents added value to the existing 3GPP system’.

3GPP Scope

The original scope of 3GPP (1998) was to produce Technical Specifications and Technical Reports for a 3G Mobile System based on evolved GSM core networks and the radio access technologies that they support (i.e., Universal Terrestrial Radio Access (UTRA) both Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) and Time Division Duplex (TDD) modes).

The scope was subsequently amended to include the maintenance and development of the Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) Technical Specifications and Technical Reports including evolved radio access technologies (e.g. General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE)).

3GPP was created in December 1998 by the signing of the "The 3rd Generation Partnership Project Agreement". The latest 3GPP Scope and Objectives document has evolved from this original Agreement.

The discussions that led to the signing of the 3GPP Agreement were recorded in a series of slides called the "Partnership Project Description" that describes the basic principles and ideas on which the project is based. The Partnership Project Description has not been maintained since its first creation but the principles of operation of the project still remain valid.

Tools and Templates

If you require extra PC software tools in order to work electronically within 3GPP , please go first to the 3GPP ToolKit and download what you need for free. Tools Microsoft Internet Explorer (Internet browser) Look here Microsoft Office Converters and Viewers Look here Netscape Navigator (Internet Browser Look here Adobe Acrobat Reader (.PDF files reader) Look here WinZip (...)
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