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As with any standards organization, 3GPP has a set of governing rules (working procedures) and a set of working processes (working methods). But no set of rules can make an organization productive and efficient. Much of the success of 3GPP is due to its working culture.

Key aspects of this culture for 3GPP are:

  • Delegates represent company positions, not individual or regional positions
  • Consensus decision making with voting as a last resort
  • Delegates empowered to make decisions and compromises at meetings
  • Voluntary work distribution among companies
  • High level of lateral communication and decision making between WGs

3GPP’s working culture and working methods owe much of their roots to its predecessor, ETSI SMG.

Delegates represent companies

The basic unit of membership in 3GPP is an Individual Member (IM). Some IMs may be part of a larger multinational company or organization and those will hopefully have a coordinated view. Delegates represent the views of the company that sends them and not their own personal view. Unlike some other standards organizations, the fact that these are company views and not personal views is clearly acknowledged.

Compromise and Consensus

Voting on technical issues is rare in 3GPP. This is because 3GPP places a heavy emphasis on reaching compromises and achieving consensus. While the consensus approach can be slower in the short term it has been successful in preventing the fragmentation of the GSM (and its successors) ecosystem.

Consensus is defined in the 3GPP working procedures as the absence of sustained opposition. Delegates and companies work hard to forge compromises both during and between meetings. Considerable pressure can be applied to minority holdouts to allow work to progress. A mechanism called “working agreements” is being trialed to allow work to progress even in the face of sustained opposition by a small minority. 3GPP has been quite successful in achieving compromises since the long term advantages of having the work progress in a timely manner usually outweighs the short term advantages of mandating a particular technical solution.

Issues are normally only escalated for voting after the work has become stalled in a working group and two or more meetings have elapsed with little progress. Voting when it occurs, normally occurs at the TSG level since any WG voting could theoretically just be overturned by a TSG decision or a separate TSG vote. Voting within 3GPP requires a 71% majority to achieve a decision on a technical issue. A simple majority is insufficient to force a decision. Even if 71% is not achieved, the proponents of the minority solution will often withdraw their proposal to allow work to proceed.

Delegate Empowerment

Within 3GPP, delegates represent their company positions, but are also expected to have sufficient flexibility and autonomy that they can reach compromises on the issues being discussed. This means that the delegates are expected to have sufficient expertise and access to sufficient company resources to be able to analyze proposals and make counter proposals during the meetings.

Much of the progress in 3GPP actually occurs in the corridors outside of meetings. This is where the compromises are reached. It is quite common to find many delegates hunched over a computer during a break discussing the wording of a compromise.


Controversial issues command a lot of the attention in 3GPP. But the vast majority of the work done is not controversial. Ensuring the completeness of the specifications and filling in the necessary details is often partitioned among companies. Companies volunteer to draft sections of specifications to progress the work for the good of the 3GPP community. This spirit of voluntarism applies to all sorts of roles in 3GPP including providing rapporteurs, providing voluntary funding for test cases, providing editors, chairing drafting sessions, writing liaisons, etc.

Distributed Decision Making

Although technical decisions are formally approved at the TSG level, most of the technical decisions are made at the WG level or in some cases at the SWG level. WGs are encouraged to resolve as many issues as possible, so that only a few really contentious issues end up actually being discussed and resolved at the TSG level. WGs receive and send LS and set up their own meeting schedules as appropriate. They work directly with other WGs and external organizations to resolve issues that cross WG, TSG, or 3GPP boundaries.


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