ITU Secretary-General, Yoshio Utsumi, to hold high-level talks on future of 3G

Geneva – Only a few weeks after having taken office at the helm of the ITU, Mr Yoshio Utsumi is facing one of the most important challenges for the ITU: the hotly debated decision on technologies and related spectrum to provide third generation mobile services. Adopting a proactive approach, he initiated a series of high-level talks with the main proponents in an attempt to arrive at some form of acceptable compromise on the way forward for IMT-2000 – ITU’s brand for third generation systems. Mr Utsumi will meet privately with top-level representatives from key players on the 3G scene both in Geneva and in Fortaleza (Brazil) where he will open the 16th meeting of the ITU Task Group on IMT-2000.

The meeting in Fortaleza is being hosted by ANATEL, the Brazilian telecommunications regulatory agency. Brazil is currently going through the final phase of the world’s biggest telecommunications privatization programme under the auspices of ANATEL. The privatization of the TELEBRAS monopoly is expected to boost growth and modernize the Brazilian telecommunications infrastructure towards what is seen by the industry as one of the biggest markets for mobile communications, potentially including 3G.

IMT-2000 encapsulates ITU’s vision for third generation mobile systems and promises to provide wireless access to the global telecommunication infrastructure in a global roaming offering through both satellite and terrestrial systems, serving fixed and mobile users in public and private networks. It embodies the dream of true "anywhere, anytime" communication across networks, across frontiers, across technologies for personal high-speed access to Information age services, offering a seamless operation of mobile terminals worldwide.

Mr Utsumi’s personal involvement in IMT-2000 clearly demonstrates the importance for the ITU to keep IMT-2000 on track given that global competition based on IMT-2000 will be a key driver for the world wireless market in the twenty years to come. He was also strongly encouraged by all segments of the industry to maintain the leading role of the ITU as a key institution capable of representing all cross-sector interests from government and operators to manufacturers and consumers around the world, industrialized and developing.

Because of the high bit-rates of third generation systems far in excess of anything available today and the flexible built-in features such as number portability, third generation systems bring the promise of fast wireless access to the Internet, real-time videoconferencing and broadcast, full-motion videophone, video and audio e-mail, or access any type of information stored on desktops at home or at work. In other words, 3G mobile systems developed on IMT-2000 specifications will be much more than a new class of telephones: they will represent the ultimate personal accessory, combining at the same time the features of a telephone, a computer, a television, a newspaper, a library, a personal diary and more. In short, IMT-2000 represents a paradigm shift to the world of multimedia mobile communications which will bring to the palm of your hand entire new business or personal applications (mobile electronic commerce, interactive shopping, business information including real-time stock value as they are traded on the floors of stock exchanges around the world, education and entertainment services amongst many others). For developing countries, fixed-line telecommunications via a simplified radio-based interface are expected to represent an important IMT-2000 application in the early years of the next century both because of their cost-effectiveness and ease of implementation and management. In addition, the economies of scale achievable with a single global mobile standard should drive down equipment costs, making the installation and uptake of mobile services in the developing world much more feasible. Last but not least, by delivering high bandwidth services such as Internet access currently only found on wireline networks, IMT-2000 will also provide a vital link to the emerging Global Information Infrastructure with its e-commerce dimension for a growing number of people.

But this visionary concept requires some degree of altruism which the industry had voluntarily accepted when the IMT-2000 concept was originally agreed; at the outset, the industry agreed on two main points: the third generation radio interface standard had to be de-linked from second generation systems to deliver the required high bit-rates and high quality performance expected of third generation systems; at the same time, because of the heavy investments already made by operators, second generation networks had to remain interoperable with IMT-2000 networks on the basis of agreed possible migration paths that would upgrade existing systems to IMT-2000 compliant systems over time. This means that early adopters of 3G systems would only get voice telephony when roaming on today’s mobile networks but would take advantage of the full range of options made available by operators on their 3G networks wherever these would be deployed. Carriers would therefore have the ability to grow a new and profitable market while preserving earnings from existing services and amortizing their 2G investments.

IMT-2000 with its concept of system compatibility and maximum commonality means a worldwide competitive platform for all players, reduced overall unit cost per user through massive economies of scale in equipment production and a cost-effective strategy for operators in gradually migrating their 2G networks towards IMT-2000 compliance.

The original vision of IMT-2000 recommendations is clearly the key to realizing the full potential for market growth and cost reductions in the third generation of mobile telecommunications.

Most players in the mobile industry have reiterated their support for a single standard that be open and provided on non-discriminatory basis. Operators have also strongly advocated keeping the standardization of 3G within the ITU and urged regulators and all industry players not to take steps that could derail the multilateral process. Industry associations including the Universal Wireless Communications Consortium (UWCC), the CDMA Development Group and the GSM Association, have all indicated that the ITU’s targeted final completion date for IMT-2000 standardization cannot be jeopardized and called on all parties to consider a compromise.

"I urge all and every member of the industry to adhere to the original vision of IMT-2000 as you wisely crafted it some years back" Mr Utsumi appealed. He stressed that a single global standard for wireless communications would bring immense benefits to operators, equipment vendors and above all, billions of consumers around the world. "As the new leader of the ITU management team, I will do my utmost to assist the work of IMT-2000 and turn this dream into reality" he added. "We, industry and regulators, have together a very important responsibility" Mr Utsumi also said. "We are closely watched in our efforts to lay the foundation for the future of telecommunication and will be judged by generations to come on our success – or failure, to bring the power of digital technology along with the full potential of affordable communication anywhere, anytime", he warned.

Beyond IPR considerations

Following consultations across the industry on the IPR deadlock and on the basis of the advice he received from the ITU meeting held in Kuala Lumpur where IPR experts discussed the situation, Mr Robert Jones, Director of ITU Radiocommunication Bureau will be formally proposing to the Fortaleza meeting to carry on with its standardization work independently from the IPR debate. If endorsed by the meeting, the technical work will be pursued with all technical options open and the compliance with ITU patent policy will be evaluated at the end of the process when the full standard is ready for formal approval at the end of the year. The industry is by and large confident that a resolution of the IPR issue is very likely to have been found by that time, thus making it possible to have a full standard compliant with ITU patent policy. In taking this dual-track approach, the technical specifications work will proceed on schedule while the IPR resolution process will continue bilaterally among the parties concerned.

Looking ahead

To deliver the full set of standards required by the industry to deploy 3G networks on time, the ITU Task Group on IMT-2000 must approve the key characteristics for the radio interface of IMT-2000 at its 16th meeting (8 to 19 March). Two further meetings of the task group will be called to complete the specifications by the end of 1999.

The Fortaleza meeting is also tasked with approving a report to be used as the technical basis for the world-wide allocation of additional spectrum for IMT-2000 for consideration by the next World Radio Conference to be held in 2000. Although some spectrum has already been identified, addition spectrum is needed to cope with the increasing amount of broadband and increasingly interactive traffic of third generation systems.

To provide greater visibility, better focus and faster results in mobile network standards, the ITU is proposing to set up a Joint Group on IMT-2000 to match the structures and processes established elsewhere in industry fora where all aspects of mobile system network specifications will be addressed to better meet industry needs. The creation of a Joint Group should also lay the foundation for a more consolidated structure in the years to come on a comprehensive handling of IMT-2000 and other mobility services/network aspects. The Joint Group, in addition to be responsible for all network aspects (signalling, protocols, management layers, security requirements etc) will also provide a forum where the ITU (radio and network experts) as well as interest groups that are not members of the ITU will be working cooperatively on IMT-2000 network-related standards of value to the global community. The decision to create the Joint Group will be taken on 19 March, with an overall IMT-2000 Network related project plan issued by then.