Heavy Reading Research

Carriers Form 4G Pressure Group

Seven of the world's biggest wireless carriers have formed an "initiative" called Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) to "provide a coherent view of what the operator community is going to require in the decade beyond 2010." (See Carriers Form NGMN.)

China Mobile Communications Corp. , KPN Mobile , NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), Orange SA (London/Paris: OGE), Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), T-Mobile International AG , and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) are the founding members that plan to spell out to wireless technology suppliers what's needed after HSPA (high-speed packet access) and CDMA EVDO, the current 3G technologies being deployed.

But with standards bodies such as the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and 3rd Generation Partnership Project 2 (3GPP2) , and industry bodies like the GSM Association (GSMA) and CDMA Development Group (CDG) already well known and established, why the need for a new body?

Steve Falk, VP for global standards at Sprint Nextel, says the "primary feeling among the carriers is that, with 2G and 3G, the operators hadn't spoken early enough and with as focused a vision as they might have done. We work very closely with the standards and other industry bodies but thought it would be useful to have some guidelines and principles."

He says it will help the carriers focus on their needs but also help their suppliers. "It will save time and resources at the vendors. Instead of chasing a disparate group of technologies, they can focus on a smaller group."

So which technologies will NGMN be focused on? Nortel Networks Ltd. , for example, said recently it is going to focus its 4G developments on WiMax, LTE (long term evolution), and EV-DO Revision C. (See Zafirovski: We'll Get 4G Right.)

Falk says the group "is technology neutral. We are creating a set of guidelines instead of technology choices. In selecting WiMax, Sprint used the guidelines and principles" laid out in the NGMN's white paper, "Next Generation Mobile Networks Beyond HSPA & EVDO version 2.1," which the organization is distributing on a request basis.

So what are the main criteria laid out in the NGMN's vision? Falk says the technology must be based on "open IPR [intellectual property rights] and must be all IP," and that there are a number of other guidelines related to issues such as performance and interoperability.

The NGMN is hoping for more members. "We've had a gratifying expression of interest from other carriers and from about 20 to 30 vendors with regards to joining," says Falk. He said the group decided to start with a manageable number to get the initiative up and running and get the white paper edited. "It's very early days in the process. We expect the number of operator members to expand.

"I haven't participated in any discussions with operators who declined to join," says Falk.

And what about the GSM Association? How does it feel about some of its high-profile members forming an alternative industry group? "We see it as a positive," says Association spokesman Mark Smith. "The operators are looking at the future, and we're very supportive of this. We're looking forward to working with the group."

Heavy Reading senior analyst Patrick Donegan says he can see why the group has been formed, and says there's a chance it could be effective.

“The GSM Association does a lot of valuable work. However, on the standards side of things, it is limited in its effectiveness because of the highly consensual approach it has to take in representing the interests of its 663 members," says Donegan. "The NGMN group believes it can be more effective in wielding a stick amongst the vendors in steering the industry’s technology roadmap.

"The acid test of its effectiveness will be how the individual member carriers behave and vote in the standards and other industry bodies. If most of the time the individual carrier members align with the NGMN group they're part of, then the vendors will take the NGMN group seriously, and it may prove effective. If they don’t, then the vendors will spot it straight away and proceed with business as usual."

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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