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3rd Generation Partnership Project
Industry standards organization
Founded 1998
United States
Headquarters United States
Number of locations
United States
Area served
United States
Website www.3gpp.org/ Edit this on Wikidata

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is a standards organization which develops protocols for mobile telephony. Its best known work is the development and maintenance of:[1]

3GPP is a consortium with seven regional telecommunication associations as primary members (“organizational partners”) and a variety of other organizations as associate members (“market representation partners”). The 3GPP organizes its work into three different streams: Radio Access Networks, Services and Systems Aspects, and Core Network and Terminals.[2]

The project was established in December 1998 with the goal of developing a specification for a 3G mobile phone system based on the 2G GSM system, within the scope of the International Telecommunication Union’s International Mobile Telecommunications-2000.[3] It should not be confused with 3rd Generation Partnership Project 2 (3GPP2), which developed a competing 3G system, CDMA2000.[4]

The 3GPP headquarters (known as the “Mobile Competence Centre”) is located at the European Telecommunications Standards Institute headquarters in the Sophia Antipolis technology park in France.[5]


The 3rd Generation Partnership Project initiative eventually arose from a strategic initiative between Nortel Networks and AT&T Wireless. In 1998 AT&T Wireless was operating an IS-136 (TDMA) wireless network in the United States. In 1997 Nortel Networks’ Wireless R&D center in Richardson, Texas, the wireless division of Bell Northern Research had developed a vision for “an all Internet Protocol (IP)” wireless network that went under the internal name “Cell Web”. As the concept progressed, Nortel launched the industry vision as “Wireless Internet”. AT&T Wireless, poised to evolve its network in the United States, took a strong interest in Wireless Internet and its promise of Internet Protocol (with Nortel Networks as the potential supplier). Within 12 months or so, AT&T launched a global initiative that they named “3GIP”, a third generation wireless standard that was “natively” Internet Protocol based.[6] Initially, principal participants included British TelecomFrance TelecomTelecom Italia, and Nortel Networks, but were eventually joined by NTT DoCoMoBellSouthTelenorLucentEricsson, Motorola, Nokia, and others.[7] A 3GIP standards forum was instituted and standards began to be developed. The forum progressed into the 2000 time frame, up until AT&T Wireless and British Telecom formed a strategic “partnership project” to facilitate “global roaming” between U.S. and European markets. With this business arrangement, GSM, the prevailing European standard was adopted as the basis of AT&T Wireless’ network evolution for North America. Very specifically, this included the deployment of GSM data capabilities, i.e. GPRS, EDGE, and its evolution to UMTS.

Organizational partners[edit]

The seven 3GPP Organizational Partners are from Asia, Europe and North America. Their aim is to determine the general policy and strategy of 3GPP and perform the following tasks:

  • The approval and maintenance of the 3GPP scope;
  • The maintenance of the Partnership Project Description;
  • Take the decision to create or cease a Technical Specification Groups, and approve their scope and terms of reference;
  • The approval of Organizational Partner funding requirements;
  • The allocation of human and financial resources provided by the Organizational Partners to the Project Co-ordination Group;
  • Act as a body of appeal on procedural matters referred to them.

Together with the Market Representation Partners (MRPs) perform the following tasks:

  • The maintenance of the Partnership Project Agreement;
  • The approval of applications for 3GPP partnership;
  • Take the decision against a possible dissolution of 3GPP.

The Organizational Partners are:

Organizational Partners
Organization Country/region Website
Association of Radio Industries and Businesses (ARIB) Japan ARIB
Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) USA ATIS
China Communications Standards Association (CCSA) China CCSA
European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) Europe ETSI
Telecommunications Standards Development Society (TSDSI) India TSDSI
Telecommunications Technology Association (TTA) South Korea TTA
Telecommunication Technology Committee (TTC) Japan TTC

Market Representation Partners[edit]

The 3GPP Organizational Partners can invite a Market Representation Partner to take part in 3GPP, which:

  • Has the ability to offer market advice to 3GPP and to bring into 3GPP a consensus view of market requirements (e.g., services, features and functionality) falling within the 3GPP scope;
  • Does not have the capability and authority to define, publish and set standards within the 3GPP scope, nationally or regionally;
  • Has committed itself to all or part of the 3GPP scope;
  • Has signed the Partnership Project Agreement.

As of June 2017, the Market Representation Partners are:

Market Representation Partners
Organization Website
4G Americas 5gamericas
5G Automotive Association 5gaa
5G Infrastructure Association 5GIA
Mobility Development Group (former CDMA Development Group) MobilityDG
Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) coai
Global Certification Forum (GCF) GCF
Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) gsacom
GSM Association (GSMA) gsmworld
IMS Forum imsforum
InfoCommunication Union icu
IPV6 Forum ipv6forum
Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) ngmn
Public Safety Communication Europe (PSCE) Forum PSCE
Small Cell Forum (formerly Femto Forum) smallcellforum
TD-Forum tdscdma
TD SCDMA Industry Alliance tdscdma
TETRA and Critical Communications Association (TCCA) tcca
UMTS Forum umts
Wireless Broadband Alliance WB Alliance


3GPP standards are structured as Releases. Discussion of 3GPP thus frequently refers to the functionality in one release or another.

Version[8] Released[3] Info
Phase 1 1992 GSM Features
Phase 2 1995 GSM Features, EFR Codec,
Release 96 1997 Q1 GSM Features, 14.4 kbit/s User Data Rate,
Release 97 1998 Q1 GSM Features, GPRS
Release 98 1999 Q1 GSM Features, AMR codecEDGE, GPRS for PCS1900
Release 99 2000 Q1 Specified the first UMTS 3G networks, incorporating a CDMA air interface[9]
Release 4 2001 Q2 Originally called the Release 2000 – added features including an all-IP Core Network[10]
Release 5 2002 Q1 Introduced IMS and HSDPA[11]
Release 6 2004 Q4 Integrated operation with Wireless LAN networks and adds HSUPAMBMS, enhancements to IMS such as Push to Talk over Cellular (PoC)GAN[12]
Release 7 2007 Q4 Focuses on decreasing latency, improvements to QoS and real-time applications such as VoIP.[13] This specification also focus on HSPA+ (High Speed Packet Access Evolution), SIM high-speed protocol and contactless front-end interface (Near Field Communication enabling operators to deliver contactless services like Mobile Payments), EDGE Evolution.
Release 8 2008 Q4 First LTE release. All-IP Network (SAE). New OFDMAFDE and MIMO based radio interface, not backwards compatible with previous CDMA interfaces. Dual-Cell HSDPAUMTS HNB.
Release 9 2009 Q4 SAES Enhancements, WiMAX and LTE/UMTS Interoperability. Dual-Cell HSDPA with MIMODual-Cell HSUPALTE HeNB.
Release 10 2011 Q1 LTE Advanced fulfilling IMT Advanced 4G requirements. Backwards compatible with release 8 (LTE). Multi-Cell HSDPA (4 carriers).
Release 11 2012 Q3 Advanced IP Interconnection of Services. Service layer interconnection between national operators/carriers as well as third party application providers. Heterogeneous networks (HetNet) improvements, Coordinated Multi-Point operation (CoMP). In-device Co-existence (IDC).
Release 12 2015 Q1 Enhanced Small Cells (higher order modulation, dual connectivity, cell discovery, self configuration), Carrier aggregation (2 uplink carriers, 3 downlink carriers, FDD/TDD carrier aggregation), MIMO (3D channel modeling, elevation beamforming, massive MIMO), New and Enhanced Services (cost and range of MTC, D2D communication, eMBMS enhancements)[14]
Release 13 2016 Q1 LTE in unlicensed, LTE enhancements for Machine-Type Communication. Elevation Beamforming / Full-Dimension MIMO, Indoor positioning.[15] LTE-Advanced Pro.
Release 14 2017 Q2 Energy Efficiency, Location Services (LCS), Mission Critical Data over LTE, Mission Critical Video over LTE, Flexible Mobile Service Steering (FMSS), Multimedia Broadcast Supplement for Public Warning System (MBSP), enhancement for TV service, massive Internet of Things, Cell Broadcast Service (CBS)[16]
Release 15 2018 Q2 First NR (“New Radio”) release. Support for 5G Vehicle-to-x service, IP Multimedia Core Network Subsystem (IMS), Future Railway Mobile Communication System[17]

Each release incorporates hundreds of individual standards documents, each of which may have been through many revisions. Current 3GPP standards incorporate the latest revision of the GSM standards.

The documents are made available without charge on 3GPP’s web site. The standards cover not only the radio part (“Air Interface“) and Core Network, but also billing information and speech coding down to source code level. Cryptographic aspects (such as authenticationconfidentiality) are also specified. 3GPP2 offers similar information about its system.

Specification groups[edit]

The 3GPP specification work is done in Technical Specification Groups (TSGs) and Working Groups (WGs).[18]

There are three Technical Specifications Groups, each of which consists of multiple WGs:

  • RAN (Radio Access Network): RAN specifies the UTRAN and the E-UTRAN. It is composed of six working groups.
WG Shorthand Scope Specifications
RAN WG1 RAN1 Radio Layer 1 specification List of specs
RAN WG2 RAN2 Radio Layer 2 and Radio Layer 3 RR specification List of specs
RAN WG3 RAN3 Iub Iur and Iu specification – UTRAN O&M requirements List of specs
RAN WG4 RAN4 Radio performance and protocol aspects (system) – RF parameters and BS conformance List of specs
RAN WG5 RAN5 Mobile terminal conformance testing List of specs
RAN WG6 RAN6 GERAN radio and protocol List of specs
  • SA (Service and System Aspects): SA specifies the service requirements and the overall architecture of the 3GPP system. It is also responsible for the coordination of the project. SA is composed of six working groups.
WG Shorthand Scope Specifications
SA WG1 SA1 Services List of specs
SA WG2 SA2 Architecture List of specs
SA WG3 SA3 Security List of specs
SA WG4 SA4 Codec List of specs
SA WG5 SA5 Telecom Management List of specs
SA WG6 SA6 Mission-critical applications List of specs
  • CT (Core Network and Terminals): CT specifies the core network and terminal parts of 3GPP. It includes the core network – terminal layer 3 protocols. It is composed of five working groups.
WG Shorthand Scope Specifications
CT WG1 CT1 MM/CC/SM (lu) List of specs
CT WG2 CT2 closed
CT WG3 CT3 Interworking with external networks List of specs
CT WG4 CT4 MAP/GTP / BCH/SS List of specs
CT WG5 CT5 OSA (Now transferred to OMA)
CT WG6 CT6 Smart Card Application Aspects List of specs
  • GERAN (GSM/EDGE Radio Access Network):

The closure of GERAN was announced in January 2016.[19] The specification work on legacy GSM/EDGE system was transferred to a new RAN WG, RAN6.

The 3GPP structure also includes a Project Coordination Group, which is the highest decision-making body. Its missions include the management of overall timeframe and work progress.

Standardization process[edit]

3GPP standardization work is contribution-driven. Companies (“individual members”) participate through their membership to a 3GPP Organizational Partner. As of April 2011, 3GPP is composed of more than 370 individual members.[20]

Specification work is done at WG and at TSG level:[21]

  • the 3GPP WGs hold several meetings a year. They prepare and discuss change requests against 3GPP specifications. A change request accepted at WG level is called “agreed”.
  • the 3GPP TSGs hold plenary meetings quarterly. The TSGs can “approve” the change requests that were agreed at WG level. Some specifications are under the direct responsibility of TSGs and therefore, change requests can also be handled at TSG level. The approved change requests are subsequently incorporated in 3GPP specifications.

3GPP follows a three-stage methodology as defined in ITU-T Recommendation I.130:[22]

  • stage 1 specifications define the service requirements from the user point of view.
  • stage 2 specifications define an architecture to support the service requirements.
  • stage 3 specifications define an implementation of the architecture by specifying protocols in details.

Test specifications are sometimes defined as stage 4, as they follow stage 3.

Specifications are grouped into releases. A release consists of a set of internally consistent set of features and specifications.

Timeframes are defined for each release by specifying freezing dates. Once a release is frozen, only essential corrections are allowed (i.e. addition and modifications of functions are forbidden). Freezing dates are defined for each stage.

The 3GPP specifications are transposed into deliverables by the Organizational Partners.


3GPP systems are deployed across much of the established GSM market.[23][24] They are primarily Release 6 systems, but as of 2010, growing interest in HSPA+ and LTE is driving adoption of Release 7 and its successors. Since 2005, 3GPP systems were seeing deployment in the same markets as 3GPP2 systems (for example, North America[25]). With LTE the official successor to 3GPP2’s CDMA systems, 3GPP-based systems will eventually become the single global mobile standard.[citation needed]

See also[edit]