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3GPP Standards Heading Into the 5G Era

3GPP Release 12 and Beyond_071122A
[3GPP Release 12 and Beyond]


- Overview

3GPP standards have played a key role in the success of LTE, making it the fastest growing cellular technology in history. Never has a new radio technology been brought to market so quickly and widely since the first version of the standard was finalized (3GPP Release 8 was finalized in December 2008).

For the first time in history, LTE has brought the entire mobile industry to a single technology footprint, resulting in unprecedented economies of scale. Following the initial LTE release, 3GPP work has been focused on the following strategic areas: 

  • Enhance the LTE radio standard to further increase capacity and performance;
  • Raise system standards to make LTE and EPC available for new business areas;
  • Introduce system robustness improvements, especially in response to exponential smartphone traffic growth.


If you work in the telecommunications industry or follow the industry closely, 5G seems to have dominated the discussion for almost a decade. It seems so, because it's true - important, impactful things take time - but the best is yet to come. Even as 5G technology matures, the 3GPP standard continues to evolve, with new features in the standard being translated into products, and more spectrum is being used. 

5G has become a global force, and its influence and ubiquity will only grow as it evolves to 5G Advanced and merges connectivity, computing and artificial intelligence (AI) at the connected intelligent edge. 


- 3GPP Specification Release Numbers

The 3GPP standards undergo continual change. To ensure that there is an organised release of new functionality, new releases of the standards occur at planned times. 

For the new 3GPP releases, there is a schedule of releases which contained set introductions of new functionality and this represents the work of the various Technical Specifications Groups and Working Groups. 

The first 3GPP releases were termed Phase 1 and Phase 2. After this the releases were given the year of the anticipated releases, but after Release 99, they reverted to specific release numbers. Release 4 was also known as 3GPP Release 2000.


- 3GPP Release Topics

3GPP Phase 1 reflected the first introduction of GSM. Work on GSM was the main focus through until Release 98. 

3GPP Release 99 was the first release of the UMTS / WCDMA standard, and work on this proceeded with the introduction of HSDPA, the HSUPA to form HSPA. 

3GPP Release 8 saw the first introduction of LTE and this was steadily updated with enhancements of LTE with LTE-A and improvements to many areas. 

Moving on, 3GPP Release 14, Release 15, and Release 16 will include the 5G technologies. Initially 3GPP Release 14 will include elements that build towards 5G, the next two including the actual specifications for it.

- Mobile Phone Standards

A new generation of cellular standards has appeared approximately every tenth year since 1G systems were introduced in 1979 and the early to mid-1980s. 

Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) and IS-95 were the two most prevalent 2G mobile communication technologies in 2007. In 3G, the most prevalent technology was UMTS with CDMA-2000 in close contention. 

All radio access technologies have to solve the same problems: to divide the finite RF spectrum among multiple users as efficiently as possible. GSM uses TDMA and FDMA for user and cell separation. UMTS, IS-95 and CDMA-2000 use CDMA. WiMAX and LTE use OFDM.

5G uses 5G NR air interface alongside OFDM principles. 5G also uses wider bandwidth technologies such as sub-6 GHz and mmWave. Like 4G LTE, 5G OFDM operates based on the same mobile networking principles.


- 5G Architecture and The 3GPP 

3GPP covers telecommunication technologies including RAN, core transport networks and service capabilities. 3GPP has provided complete system specifications for 5G network architecture which is much more service oriented than previous generations. 

Services are provided via a common framework to network functions that are permitted to make use of these services. Modularity, reusability and self-containment of network functions are additional design considerations for a 5G network architecture described by the 3GPP specifications.

For decades, 3GPP has maintained detailed mechanisms through standards which have enabled billions of worldwide users to access mobile communications. Comprised of seven different international telecommunications standard development organizations, 3GPP coordinates the establishment of technologies, radio access networks, core network and service capabilities, as well as non-radio access and interworking protocols for non-3GPP networks. 3GPP has a defined set of releases for the new versions of the standards, each containing new functionality.

3GPP is the industry organization that defines the global specifications for 3G UMTS (including HSPA), 4G LTE, and 5G technologies. 3GPP is driving many essential inventions across all aspects of 5G design, from the air interface to the service layer. Other 3GPP 5G members range from infrastructure vendors and component/device manufacturers to mobile network operators and vertical service providers.



[More to come ...]

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