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Is 3GPP contribution counting an indicator of 5G leadership?

As the 3GPP standardization lead for Qualcomm Technologies, I often come across the question of how to measure a company’s leadership in 3GPP. This topic heats up around each major generational transition, and 5G is no exception as it creates an opportunity to assert 5G technology leadership as the first 3GPP specifications are being completed and the evolution work begins.

As an initial matter, leadership in 3GPP is not a simple mathematical exercise, yet some in the industry suggested the simplistic approach to assessing 3GPP leadership based on some form of “contribution counting.” That is, counting the number of technical submissions made to 3GPP by each individual company (each analyst seems to have his own preferred variant on how to “count”), and to see who has more — inferring more is better. However, as I have pointed out in my previous blog post, contribution counting is a flawed practice that does not paint an accurate picture.

To get a full grasp of this topic, it is imperative to first understand how 3GPP works. Last year, I wrote a series of “Demystifying 3GPP” blog posts that provided an insider’s perspective to 3GPP’s inner workings, and I strongly urge you to read them. But, if you are keen on understanding why contribution counting doesn’t gauge leadership, here is a quick summary.

“...contribution counting is a flawed practice that does not paint the complete picture.”

Lorenzo Casaccia, VP, Technical Standards, Qualcomm Europe, Inc.

Why contribution counting is not a good proxy for leadership

A contribution is a technical document submitted by one or more 3GPP members; however, not all contributions are created equal. There are many different types of contributions that can range from smaller change requests (e.g., fixing a typo or correcting a parameter) to major proposals that introduce new foundational features/services or even expand to a new vertical industry (e.g., introducing the concept of LTE into unlicensed spectrum or establishing the fundamental technique that would allow the new 5G NR air interface to scale across frequencies). Simply comparing all contributions means you are not considering how significant they are for the final commercial system.

The technology implementation details that end up in 3GPP specifications are not based on the direct acceptance or rejection of individual member contributions, but rather through the progressive and collaborative refinements of specific core concepts. This means, for example, that contribution counting does not give credit to those that are building consensus and driving core concepts toward the final specifications.

Contribution counting results can also be manipulated. One can game any contribution counting system by incentivizing 3GPP representatives on the number of contributions they submit and get approved. Some working groups have even introduced “contribution caps” to avoid having meetings flooded by contributions driven by contribution count maximization. After all, any member can literally submit as many contributions as they want to any meeting because there is no “quality control for acceptance” as there is in academic conferences, for example. This fact alone should suffice to explain why counting 3GPP contributions is not adequate.

Moreover, 3GPP specifications evolve in a very iterative manner, building on top of each other and leveraging a lot of the fundamental technologies that came before. This means that the impact of an innovation going into a “first release” (e.g., Rel-8 for LTE or Rel-15 for NR) is greater as subsequent features are built on top of it.

“Measuring 3GPP leadership requires much more in-depth research on a feature-by-feature basis and a comparison on what eventually makes it into the final standards.”

Lorenzo Casaccia, VP, Technical Standards, Qualcomm Europe, Inc.

How should we think about assessing 3GPP leadership?

I hope by now it’s clear that contribution counting only provides a limited view of a company’s 3GPP leadership. Introducing new technologies is, after all, a creative and inventive act. Do we establish who is the better or most impactful author is by counting how many pages they’ve written? Do we assess the quality of an artist purely by counting how many paintings they’ve completed? How could Qualcomm be first in the industry to demonstrate 3GPP compliant connections, while the standard still is being defined, if we are not a leader in driving the core concepts into the specifications?

At Qualcomm, we focus on the quality and substance rather than the quantity of 3GPP contributions. We believe that 3GPP will be overwhelmed and potentially slowed down if all companies focused on maximizing the number of contributions, which in the end could delay getting key 5G technologies and new experiences into the hands of consumers as well as expanding 5G to new industries that are eagerly awaiting the benefits of 5G technology.

Measuring 3GPP leadership requires much more in-depth research on a feature-by-feature basis and a comparison on what eventually makes it into the final standards. We believe this is the way to proceed if you want to assess 3GPP leadership — and by extension, technology leadership.

What’s next?

As I wrap up this blog post, I am heading to San Diego for the 3GPP RAN Plenary meeting next week, where key decisions will be made on Release 16 Study Items. I will provide an update and host a webinar shortly after to keep you in the loop on the latest 3GPP progress. So, stay tuned!


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