ITU warns that CDMA-based RTT proposals for IMT-2000 could be excluded from further consideration if IPR stalemate is not resolved by the year end

7 December 1998

Geneva – Discussions at the meeting of Task Group 8/1 held in Jersey, Channel Islands from 9 to 20 November 1998 indicated that the ITU may only be able to consider RTT technologies for IMT-2000 that are based on TDMA technology if the dispute surrounding Intellectual Property Rights of CDMA proposals is not resolved before the end of this year. "This is clearly laid out in the procedure for submitting candidate Radio Transmissions Technologies (RTTs) described in an ITU Circular sent out to our membership on 26 May 1998 NOTE 1" said Robert Jones, Director of the ITU Radiocommunications Bureau. The procedure was set out after consultation with over 200 industry experts who met in Geneva earlier in May. "To conform with the ITU patent policy", Mr Jones explained, "the holder of any known patent or any pending patent application related to any proposal made to the ITU in the process of international standards-setting 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 ultimately excludes the proposal from the international standards-setting process" Jones stressed. The ITU patent policy is basically similar to that of most other standards-setting organizations so the proponents will face similar difficulties elsewhere if these issues are not resolved quickly.

The deadline for the submission of patent statements on IMT-2000 RTTs is set at 31 December 1998 in order to facilitate the consensus building phase of the ITU standards process and avoid detailed development of standards which would ultimately be blocked from approval by IPR issues.To-date, two of the statements received are upholding IPRs on CDMA-based technology proposals: one by Ericsson on 28 September 1998 and one made by QUALCOMM on 13 October 1998.

Ericsson holds that it has patents and/or pending application(s) for patent that are essential to the two different proposed 3G standards based on W-CDMA and cdma2000. Ericsson stated that it was fully prepared to grant license to these patents on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms, however, subject to conditions of reciprocity which are required to create fairness in a multi-standard environment. It adds "Ericsson wants each country, or region, to be able to choose among the alternative global standards without being hindered by unequal IPR policies. Ericsson will therefore grant licenses to the alternative 3G standards on the basis of full reciprocity on a global scale between treatment of essential IPRs for these standards". This means, according to Ericsson, that it is not prepared to offer licenses, provided that some other company does not apply such reciprocity in its licensing commitments and by such non-reciprocal action, hinder free choice on equal terms between available standards.

But Ericsson claims were rapidly rebuffed by QUALCOMM in its statement according to which it holds essential IPRs on 5 proposals based on CDMA technology or variants of it.

The QUALCOMM’s position is as follows:

QUALCOMM’s said that it was prepared to license its IPR only if the following three principles were met:

  1. A single, converged worldwide CDMA standard should be selected for 3G
  2. The converged CDMA standard must accommodate equally the two dominant network standards in use today (ANSI-41 and GSM MAP); and
  3. Disputes on specific technological points should be resolved by selecting the proposal that either is demonstrably superior in terms of performance, features, or cost, or, in the case of alternatives with no demonstrable material difference, the choice that is most compatible with existing technology

QUALCOMM’s announcement sent shockwaves around the world and launched a series of consultations between the various players (outside the ITU framework). The impact of the announcement was however the subject of intense discussions at the Jersey meeting.

The ITU has requested detailed information on these claimed "essential" IPRs from Ericsson and QUALCOMM, in particular how these claims affect specific aspects of each of the IMT-2000 RTT proposals received by the ITU. This additional information is needed very urgently in order to ensure that the IMT-2000 standardization process can continue at a rate necessary to meet agreed industry implementation schedules.

The global telecommunications industry is at a critical juncture and the ITU believes that global competition based on IMT-2000 standards will be a key driver for the world wireless market; incompatible standards, sometimes softly referred to as "technology differentiation", can however only mean bad news for consumers through higher costs and lack of interoperability across regions and around the world. And this is precisely what would happen if the various TDMA and CDMA RTT proposals submitted to the ITU are not harmonized into a single global standard for 3G. About 80% of today’s digital mobile market is TDMA-based. A move to multiple 3G standards tied to today’s 2G "footprints" could fragment the 3G marketplace. On the other hand, a global standard based on the best features of the various RTT proposals submitted to the ITU would mean a worldwide competitive platform for all players.

The ITU is concerned that the "virtual holy war" – to take the expression of AT&T’s Ken Woo – can well mark the end of a dream: the dream for consumers to have truly "anywhere, anytime" communication across networks, across frontiers, across technologies for personal access to Information Age services.

Given the glittering prize that third generation represents, it is now time to make sure this chance is not wasted and turn the "unfulfilled dream of the 20th century" into reality.

For operators and equipment manufacturers, a lot is riding on the choice of RTT. Incumbent operators have made huge investments in the networks deployed for second generation systems. They clearly need to make sure that whatever decision is made on 3G, their existing 2G networks will remain interoperable with third generation systems under IMT-2000.

The consensus within Task Group 8/1 where all major industry players are taking an active part - including QUALCOMM and Ericsson – has therefore been to select a radio interface for IMT-2000 capable of delivering the full range of 3G services and quality in a global roaming environment, that could also operate with 2G networks through dual or multi-mode sets albeit without all the added functionalities of IMT-2000. In other words, a migration path similar to that experienced when colour television was introduced.

There is a growing consensus from all corners to develop a single global standard for third generation based around the ITU IMT-2000 concept. One of the last main remaining stumbling blocks is that of the IPR.

On the development of key characteristics of the IMT-2000 radio interfaces, the Jersey meeting achieved considerable progress. In particular, the Task Group 8/1 meeting:

NOTE 1 ITU-R Circular letter 8/LCCE/47 Addendum 3 of 26 May 1998


NOTE 2 Since QUALCOMM sent its statement to the ITU, two US proposals (T1P1-Wireless/Mobile Services and USTIA TR46.1 WIMS W-CDMA) merged into WP-CDMA of US TR46/T1P1. Another proposal, China’s TD-SCDMA is not covered by QUALCOMM’s statement. The ITU has not been informed whether, on these two proposals, QUALCOMM holds essential IPR and, if it does, whether it would be willing to waive the IPR rights or agree to negotiate licenses with other parties on a on-discriminatory basis on reasonable terms and conditions.