OnQ Blog

Demystifying 3GPP – An insider’s perspective to how 4G and 5G standards get created

Aug 2, 2017

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

The smartphone has become indispensable to our everyday lives. The average consumer spends almost three hours a day on his or her smartphone streaming, sharing, communicating, searching, and so much more (source: comScore, Dec ’16). At the foundation of these experiences we love so much is the ability for mobile devices to connect to high-speed Internet access virtually everywhere we go. Powering these mobile broadband connections are global 3G and 4G LTE wireless/cellular technology standards that are constantly evolving for better performance and efficiency. And now, as we approach the 5G era, we are developing the next generation of wireless technology standards. 5G will not only usher in the next generation of enhanced, immersive mobile broadband experiences, it will also expand cellular technology to virtually every industry, every object and every connection.

But where do these technology standards come from? How are they created? And who creates them?

Despite the revolutionary impact and ubiquity of these technology standards, there is very little knowledge out there on how 3GPP — the standards body responsible for designing the technologies that drive these global standards — actually works. Beyond the mobile industry and ecosystem, most have never even heard of 3GPP. And even within the mobile industry, there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings on how 3GPP functions.

Figure 1: 3GPP overview.
Figure 1: 3GPP overview.

Understanding 3GPP, and how evolving 4G and 5G standards are developed, is becoming increasingly important as the mobile ecosystem expands to connect much more than our beloved smartphones. From automobiles, to public safety, to the Internet of Things and much more, an expanding number of industries/entities are now engaging with the 3GPP ecosystem as seen in the rapid growth in 3GPP meeting attendance in Figure 2 below (source: 3GPP Mobile Competence Centre Summary Report from RAN#76).

Figure 2: 3GPP meeting attendance (source: 3GPP RP-170872)
Figure 2: 3GPP meeting attendance (source: 3GPP RP-170872).

Beyond this, the transition to new generations, like the ongoing transition from 4G LTE to 5G, provides important inflection points within the industry. Although cellular technology standards are constantly evolving with new technologies, these new generations (or Gs), that come about every 10 years or so (Figure 3), fuel new levels of innovation across the entire industry. And since 3GPP is a member-driven organization that relies on the technology inventions from individual member companies like Qualcomm, new generations are also an opportunity for companies to assert their 3GPP leadership, and by extension their technology leadership.

Figure 3: 3GPP technologies have fueled mobile innovation.
Figure 3: 3GPP technologies have fueled mobile innovation.

However, assessing 3GPP leadership is not a simple task. And certainly, not as simple as some have implied by using simplistic methods like counting the number of technical contributions that member companies have submitted into the standard-setting process. As I will detail in a subsequent blog, this method for assessing 3GPP leadership has numerous pitfalls and misrepresents the way decisions are made within 3GPP.

At Qualcomm, we have been a leading contributor to 3GPP throughout its 18+ year history — not only in the number of technical contributions we have submitted, but more importantly in the quality of these contributions. Our system-level inventions have been fundamental in leading the evolution and expansion of 3G and 4G LTE. Moreover, we have a rich history of building consensus in the industry towards impactful new directions for cellular technology as well as the proven expertise in driving end-to-end designs through a complex 3GPP standardization process. These 3GPP leadership capabilities, which Qualcomm has consistently demonstrated the last 18+ years, are essential to allowing members of the ecosystem to confidently move forward at scale towards commercialization of these complex cellular technologies and systems that have fueled the mobile innovation we love so much.

On a personal note, I’ve been leading the 3GPP technical standards team at Qualcomm Technologies for the last few years, and have been involved with our 3GPP design teams for over a decade. I’m very proud to be a part of these extraordinary efforts to drive the mobile industry forward. Beyond 3GPP, Qualcomm is also active in more than 160 standard-setting organizations that cover a wide range of enabling technologies critical to the modern mobile experience including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, audio and video compression technologies, Internet protocols, interface technologies, and more.

My objectives for this blog, along with the more detailed supporting blogs listed below, is to provide you an insider’s perspective on how the 3GPP standardization process works, why simplistic methods for assessing 3GPP leadership like contribution counting fall short, and what Qualcomm’s essential leadership role in 3GPP consists of. The subsequent articles in this series will cover the following:

And finally, as a preview into these future blogs, we are not proposing an alternative, simplistic metric for assessing 3GPP leadership. This may disappoint some, and I get it — I also like to have simple data and charts that tell a simple story. But as you’ll see through the series of blogs, the 3GPP process is not that simple and therefore assessing 3GPP leadership requires some knowledge and time. We firmly believe the quality (vs. number) of contributions is what matters, as well as the proven ability to build industry-wide consensus and drive end-to-end designs through 3GPP. I encourage you to read through this series of blogs, and/or join us for our upcoming FierceWireless webinar “How do Global 4G and 5G Standards get Created? Demystifying 3GPP.” I believe you will walk away from them not only having a much richer knowledge of how 3GPP works, but a much richer appreciation for the essential role Qualcomm has played and continued to play in driving 3GPP standards.


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Opinions expressed in the content posted here are the personal opinions of the original authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of Qualcomm Incorporated or its subsidiaries ("Qualcomm"). Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries. The content is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to be an endorsement or representation by Qualcomm or any other party. This site may also provide links or references to non-Qualcomm sites and resources. Qualcomm makes no representations, warranties, or other commitments whatsoever about any non-Qualcomm sites or third-party resources that may be referenced, accessible from, or linked to this site.

Lorenzo Casaccia

Vice President of Technical Standards, Qualcomm Europe, Inc.