Optical/IP Networks

3GPP Pins Down LTE Specs

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards organization has firmed up the specifications for Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and extended the deadline for System Architecture Evolution (SAE) core network specifications, Unstrung has learned.

The news means that the so-called 4G mobile broadband standard is on track and has made the deadline for inclusion in the 3GPP's Release 8 set of standards as planned. (See LTE Specs on Track, LTE: The Big Freeze, and Gearing Up for LTE.)

"LTE is on target and we completed the task as expected," says Adrian Scrase, vice president of international partnership projects at European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) .

For LTE, the "majority of the work has been done," Scrase tells Unstrung. "Then, in March, LTE is home and dry."

But the 3GPP decided to give more time to the work on SAE -– a.k.a. evolved packet core (EPC) –- because the specs weren't complete enough. The standards body has drawn up a list of "exceptions" that will have until March 2009 to be finalized in order to be included in Release 8.

"There are a number of pieces of work which we thought should be included but weren't quite ready," says Scrase. "[There are] quite a number of parts for SAE, the work [on which] still lags behind LTE work. We have a high level of confidence that the items will be completed by March, otherwise we wouldn't have included them on the list."

Scrase says that it is common to extend deadlines in this way and that the 3GPP allowed a similar extension for Release 7.

The decisions about LTE and SAE took place at a 3GPP meeting in Athens last week, where the group definitively agreed on what is contained in Release 8 and what's not, according to Scrase. The group also agreed on what should be included in Release 9, which is scheduled to be frozen in December 2009.

And there is more to Release 8 than LTE and SAE. For example, some of the specifications for femtocells -- or "Home Node B" in 3GPP terminology -- are included in the release. (See LTE Focus Puts Pressure on Femtocells.)

Unstrung has not yet seen the Release 8 documents or the list of work items that were granted an extension. But we'll update the story as we learn more.

LTE network products next year
Even though the LTE specifications have only just been pinned down, network equipment work is already well underway. Vendors are responding to meet the ambitious LTE rollout plans of NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), which targets 2010 for network deployment, and Verizon Wireless , which now wants to launch an LTE network by the end of next year. (See AT&T, Verizon Plot Faster Futures, AT&T & Verizon to Use 700 MHz for 4G , DoCoMo Takes LTE to 250 Mbit/s, T-Mobile Beefs Up LTE Plans, and China Mobile Preps LTE Network.)

According to an upcoming Heavy Reading report on LTE network equipment, network products are expected to be ready in the third quarter of next year.

With today's news that the 3GPP has decided on an initial set of LTE specs, vendors now have a really good idea of what the standard will look like, and any future changes can be done through software updates, according to Gabriel Brown, Heavy Reading senior analyst and author of the report.

But the situation is different for handset vendors. Brown reckons that the standard is not yet complete enough for device manufacturers to start building to it.

For handsets, "you really need a stable standard to build to," he says.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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