ITU leads the way in third generation evolution

ITU Press & Public Information Service

The technology battles of the second generation mobile systems seem to be carrying on into the future. The evolution to third generation gives the world a chance to create a single global standard encompassing a federation of systems with all the benefits that this would offer to both consumers, vendors and operators. Can the world afford to waste it?

The incredible rise in demand for mobile communications has been the technological and marketing success story of the late 20th Century. In less than twenty years the global wireless communications subscriber base has reached over 200 million customers, a figure which forecasts predict will exceed half a billion by the early years of the 21st century. The trigger for the boom in wireless was undoubtedly the introduction of second generation digital cellular technologies such as GSM, CDMA and TDMA. The multiplicity of disparate standards which characterized first generation analogue systems had tended to limit market growth. The additional services and functionalities offered by these digital technologies complemented the voice communications capability of first generation cellular systems and drove the expansion of the global market. Now, as the new Millennium approaches, the world of wireless communications is looking towards the third generation.

The evolution to the third generation of wireless communications is a fundamental step to a new world. Since its inception, the main driver for mobile communications market has been the requirement for voice telephony, that is one-to-one speech communications. Third generation represents a paradigm shift to the world of multimedia mobile communications, where users will have access not just to voice services but also to video, image, text, graphic and data communications. The capabilities offered by third generation technologies will be virtually limitless, offering users services such as videoconferencing, access to the Internet and corporate intranets, the ability to surf the world wide web and a host of other advanced applications. Whole new business sectors will be enabled by third generation technologies – mobile electronic commerce, interactive shopping, education and entertainment services amongst many others. Third generation capabilities will be enabled by the introduction of new data communications technologies capable of offering data speeds far in excess of those possible with second generation technologies. The ITU parameters for third generation specify the capability to deliver data at 144kbit/s to fast moving subscribers, at 384kbit/s to slow moving subscribers and at 2Mbit/s in a stationery environment – a remarkable advance on today’s mobile data services.

The key to the success of all new technological developments is standardization. Ideally, the third generation of mobile communications will be based on a single global standard which encompasses a number of interoperable systems. Because service providers, manufacturers, carriers and customers are increasingly operating globally, only through the establishment of a single global standard will they be able to enjoy the true benefits of third generation communications. As the only truly global telecommunications organization, the ITU is ideally suited to instigate and carry through the development of this single standard and realize the evolution to third generation.

The road to IMT-2000

The ITU realized at an early stage in the development of the global cellular market that there would be a need to create an evolutionary path from first generation analogue systems, through second generation digital to third generation mobile multimedia systems by the early years of the 21st Century. In the late 1980’s the ITU initiated the evolution of third generation by defining the requirements for the Future Public Land Mobile Telecommunications System (FPLMTS). Under the aegis of the ITU, work began on the definition of the FPLMTS standard and in 1992 the World Radio Conference identified spectrum for FPLMTS in the 2GHz band. As the momentum of the global cellular market grew and new second generation standards became deployed, the ITU created the IMT-2000 concept for third generation, anticipating the increasingly sophisticated requirements of users for broadband capabilities at the dawn of the next Millennium.

IMT-2000 is an ITU initiative which aims to provide wireless access to the global telecommunication infrastructure through a combination of satellite, terrestrial, fixed and mobile systems. It is being developed on the basis of a "family of systems" concept defined as a federation of systems providing IMT-2000 service capabilities to users of all family members in a global roaming offering. The aim of IMT-2000 is to achieve, through the medium of ITU standardization, the goal of enabling customers to roam globally and have anytime, anywhere connectivity. This connectivity will extend to roaming onto multiple networks – fixed and mobile, cordless, cellular and satellite. The introduction of a single global third generation standard will enable massive economies of scale in the production of equipment, bringing the capability of global communications within the reach of everyone on the planet. Increased competition will drive down tariffs and the third generation technology will enable the deployment of new functionalities, services and applications. A single third generation wireless standard will also have considerable benefits for developing countries, helping the ITU’s goal of erasing the gap in access to communications and information between developed and developing nations.

The IMT-2000 Process

From the outset the ITU has played a key role in the evolution of third generation, firstly by defining the services and functionalities of the technology and secondly by acting as the catalyst for the development of third generation standards by regional standards bodies. The next, and most critical, phase in the evolution to third generation is just beginning. In the next year, the ITU will examine proposals for third generation radio technologies from around the world in order to select the key characteristics which will make up the IMT-2000 set of radio interfaces.

The IMT-2000 selection process has already begun. In June 1998, the ITU received fifteen submissions for consideration as candidate radio transmission technologies for IMT-2000. Of these, six were based on variations of Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (W-CDMA) technology. These were submitted by Europe, Japan, China and the USA. Other technologies represented in the submissions were; Wideband Time Division Multiple Access (W-TDMA), DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications, and three satellite solutions. Sponsoring organizations for these came from Europe, the USA and Korea.

The initial submissions are now being evaluated by 16 independent evaluation groups from around the world. The reports from these sixteen groups will be submitted to ITU Task Group 8/1 by the end of September 1998. The final selection of IMT-2000 radio transmission technologies will be made by March 1999 on the basis of an iterative, consensus building approach to achieve the best result for third generation implementation.

There will then be a lengthy period of specification activity by specialist committees working under Task Group 8/1 during which the outline proposals will be developed into draft ITU recommendations. These recommendations will be given final consideration by the ITU late in 1999 for final approval. As the development of the IMT-2000 standards will be closely tracked by manufacturers and potential operators, who, for most of them, will in fact play an integral role in the development process as members of the ITU, the launch of commercial third generation services should take place within a reasonable period following approval of the appropriate standards.

The ITU responds

The road towards third generation has not always been smooth and there continue to be contentious issues. Questions have been raised firstly in regard to the whole concept of a harmonized third generation standard and, secondly, as to whether the third generation technology selection process should be the remit of the ITU.

In some quarters, there is the perception that the ITU’s IMT-2000 process is in some way inimical to the interests of business and consumers. There has even been one attempt to obtain a ruling from a National Trade Representative to declare ITU’s approach anti-competitive under the WTO agreement.

These views indicate a basic misunderstanding of the third generation process. At the very outset, the industry agreed that the high bit-rate and high quality performance expected from third generation systems was by default excluding the possibility to build the radio interface on existing second generation systems – whether in their current definition or in any improved version. The consensus within Task Group 8/1 where all major industry players are taking an active part including those who now publicly call for multiple standards – was therefore to select an entirely new radio interface for IMT-2000 capable of delivering the throughput and quality in a global roaming environment. At the same time, it was also decided that the networks deployed for second generation systems needed to remain interoperable with third generation systems under IMT-2000 to protect the heavy investments made by operators worldwide. Thus, the availability of a single global and open standard for radio interface will truly bring about full competition worldwide – among manufacturers in making the equipment and among operators in providing the service. And this worldwide competitiveness will bring benefits to consumers worldwide. It would be unfortunate if the interests of operators, manufacturers and users generally were to be sacrificed in favour of the interests of a few.

The great majority of manufacturers from all over the world, including the US, who have been closely involved in first and second generation cellular communications, are playing a key role in the development of third generation systems. There is indeed a very vocal minority which are taking positions apart from the ITU’s approach to third generation development but the aim of the "silent majority" has always been to create advanced technical standards which would deliver value to the end user. Those aims are being carried through to the development of third generation.

The broad based and flexible approach inherent in the IMT-2000 concept means that no company or country is being disadvantaged. The only reason that a manufacturing company would be penalized would be if it manufactured products that are not IMT-2000 compliant.

Of course, the answer over the bickering surrounding the choice of the RTT can very well be in the hands of operators. Because they are the ones whose business would be really hurt if multiple standards would finally reach the marketplace, they are considering various possible good engineering options that would harmonize the positions. An appealing proposal is expected to be tabled at the November 98 meeting of Task Group 8/1 by one of the world’s major cellular operator which would meet the concerns of all players through a chipset capable of integrating all key technical characteristics currently embedded in the main proposed 3G radio technologies. With this approach, the dream of seamless global roaming using a single terminal could be realized.

Is the ITU the right body to be leading the development of third generation? First and second generation mobile systems were not designed to be global systems but rather national or at best regional. The ITU was therefore not expected to set standards for these systems. But these did not anticipate the globalization of the world economy and the need for players to gain worldwide mobility. The inevitable disparate technologies that were developed nationally or regionally led to market fragmentation. Only the ITU, which represents the interests of everyone from governments and operators to manufacturers and consumers around the world, is now in a position to lead the development of truly global third generation solutions which will enable the economies of scale which bring affordable personal communications to the mass market.

The ITU’s work in developing IMT-2000 offers the opportunity, for the first time, to create a single global standard for wireless communications. The benefits of a single standard would be immense for operators, for equipment vendors and above all, for consumers around the world. It is vital that that there is agreement on the harmonization of the candidate technologies for IMT-2000, otherwise a single global standard will not emerge and the evolution to the third generation may be badly hampered or even stopped completely.

The future looks bright

The omens for success are hopeful. Earlier this year representatives from some of the world’s leading telecommunications standards organizations agreed to join forces and work towards the goal of global roaming for users within the framework of ITU standards. The level of global support for the ITU and its work on third generation was shown by the organizations who committed themselves to this goal representing as they did Europe (ETSI), Japan (Arib and TTC), Korea (TTA) and North America (TIA, T1, TSACC) as well as formal representation of nations which will represent important markets for third generation systems including China, India and Brazil. There is a growing consensus committed to developing a single global standard for third generation based around the ITU IMT-2000 concept. Given the glittering prize that third generation represents, attempts by any party to hinder the development process will likely be regarded with considerable disfavour by the growing majority which supports the ITU approach.

All ITU standards, whether wireline or wireless, are open standards. To this end, any proposal made to the ITU in the process of international standards-setting, must include from the outset, indication of any known patent or any known pending patent application; the patent holder must submit a written statement, either waiving his rights or committing to negotiate licenses on a non-discriminatory basis and on reasonable terms and conditions. Failure to provide this statement excludes the proposal from the international standards-setting.

Copyright 1998