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3G/HSPA

Release 5 to the 3G Rescue

New standards emerging from the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) are set to ramp up the perfomance of 3G UMTS networks, according to the latest Unstrung Insider report “Uncovering the 3GPP and 3GPP2.”

Today’s UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) networks, deployed by carriers such as 3, NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), and J-Phone Co. Ltd., are based on equipment specified by the 3GPP’s Release ’97 (packet core) and Release ’99 (radio access) standards. These networks are capable of data rates somewhere around 100, 200, or 300 kbit/s in urban environments -- depending on the prevailing radio conditions and network load -- but have so far met with a mixed reception in the market. As a result, forward-thinking vendors and operators are now looking to the 3GPP Release 5 specifications (finalized in July 2003) to boost their prospects.

Release 5 spans a huge range of technologies and applications, so here’s a taster, excerpted and summarized from the Unstrung Insider report, of what to expect:

  • High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA)
    A new modulation and transmission scheduling technique that boosts downlink data rates to 10 Mbit/s [ed. note: we’ll believe that when we see it]. However, even though lots of folk are getting excited about this (see DoCoMo Cranks Up 3G), the commercial timeline is uncertain.

  • Connection of RAN Nodes to Multiple Core Network Nodes
    Adds additional routing capabilities to the Radio Network Controller (RNC) so that it can load-balance among multiple MSCs (Mobile Switching Centers) or SGSNs (Serving Gateway Support Nodes). This should make more efficient use of network equipment and therefore save carriers money.

  • IP Multimedia Core Network Subsystem (IMS) Phase I
    “A feature to support applications involving multiple media components per session in such a way that the network is able to dissociate different flows with potentially different QOS characteristics associated to the multimedia session,” says the 3GPP.

  • It’s far from clear what exactly this will mean in practice [ed. note: or in English!], but push-to-talk is one application that’s being touted (see Vendors Push Carrier Upgrades and Giants Complete PTT Spec). The main drawback is that IMS specifies the use of IPv6 (see Poll Shows Divisions Over IPv6) and SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) clients on the handsets. Don’t hold your breath.

  • IP in the UTRAN (UMTS Terrestrial Radio Access Network)
    Introduces the ability for operators to use IP transport in place of ATM among base station, RNC, SGSN and MSC. This doesn’t affect the end-user in anyway but could lower carriers' operational costs. Most likely to be used to connect heavy-traffic base stations

  • Wideband Adaptative Multi Rate Codec
    A new wideband speech codec that uses 7 KHz of bandwidth instead of the narrowband 3.4 KHz used today. The 3GPP says it will bring speech quality exceeding that of (narrowband) wireline to 3G systems.

Following on from Release 5 is -- three guesses now! -- Release 6, optimistically scheduled for completion in March 2004 (and probably requiring at least another year to become a stable specification), which will introduce another raft of new technologies and upgrades to UMTS networks.

The 3GPP also supports a number of technical feasibility study groups to identify what should be included in the next release. One current example is the group investigating whether Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) modulation should be adopted to further boost downlink performance, presumably for inclusion in Release 7.

— Gabriel Brown, Research Analyst, Unstrung

The full report -- Uncovering the 3GPP and 3GPP2 -- costs $400. An annual subscription to the Insider is ordinarily $1,250 but is currently available at the special introductory price of $899. For more information, including subscription information and research examples, go to: Unstrung Insider.

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