Demystifying the 3GPP

An insider's perspective on how 4G and 5G standards get created.

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

August 14, 2017

5 Min Read
Demystifying the 3GPP

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, according to consumer behavior measurement firm comScore.

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

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 the image below.

Figure 2: (Source: 3GPP) (Source: 3GPP)

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 G's-- that come about every ten years or so (see below), 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. 3GPP technologies have fueled mobile innovation.

However, assessing 3GPP leadership, or more specifically, assessing the relative impact of 3GPP members to cellular technology standardization, 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. This method for assessing 3GPP leadership has numerous pitfalls and misrepresents the way decisions are actually made within 3GPP.

At Qualcomm, we have been a leading contributor to 3GPP throughout its 18-plus 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-plus 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.

And with the advent of 5G, these leadership capabilities to move the ecosystem in new directions is more important than ever. Why? Because, as shown below, 5G will expand the mobile ecosystem into to new industries, new spectrum bands and types, new deployments, new services and new user experiences. This expansion requires, more than ever, the leadership of 3GPP individual members to drive the cellular ecosystem in these new directions.

Figure 4:

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. And I’m very excited to provide you with my perspective on how 4G and 5G standards get created. To learn more, I encourage you to read our recently published articles by accessing the links below. 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.

— Lorenzo Casaccia, Vice President, Technical Standards, Qualcomm Technologies

About the Author(s)

Lorenzo Casaccia

VP, Technical Standards, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.

Lorenzo has been at the forefront of wireless technology and innovation for 15 years. He joined Qualcomm in 2000 and has been with the company since then, covering a variety of roles related to wireless communication, including research and system design, government affairs, product management and technical standardization. He currently leads a team of engineers across three continents driving Qualcomm's activities in 3GPP, the standards body designing technologies for 2G, 3G, 4G (and in the future 5G). He is based in Rome, and travels frequently to California, where he has lived for a number of years. Lorenzo holds university degrees in Electrical Engineering from the Turin Polytechnic, in Telecommunication from the Eurecom Institute, France, and in Philosophy from the Rome University. He is the author or co-author of over 40 approved patents.

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