The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is the standards organization that is responsible for the evolutionary planning of the 3GPP family of technologies. 3GPP creates specifications for wireless cellular technologies through working groups comprised of operators and vendors to further the development and standardization for successful global deployments of the 3GPP family of technologies and labels the final stages of development as “Releases.” 3GPP uses a system of parallel Releases to provide developers with a stable platform for implementation and to allow for the addition of new features required by the market.
Evolution of TDMA, CDMA, and OFDMA Systems
Source: Mobile Broadband Explosion: The 3GPP Wireless Evolution
4G Americas and Rysavy Research, September 2012
UMTS Release-99 (Rel-99) specifications, initially standardized in early- to mid-1999 and published by 3GPP in March 2000, provided the 3G evolutionary path for GSM, GPRS and EDGE technologies, enabling more spectrally efficient and better performing voice and data services through the introduction of a 5 MHz UMTS carrier. The next step was Rel-4, which was completed in March 2001, Rel-5 was published in March 2002 and Rel-6 was completed in March 2005. These 3G technology standards were fully commercialized following the first launch of 3G UMTS (FOMA) services by NTT DoCoMo in Japan in 2001, with 2003 as the year when Rel-99 UMTS networks were more widely commercialized. By October 2012, the number of commercial HSPA networks was over 475 in more than 180 countries.
Rel-4 introduced call and bearer separation in the Core Network, and Rel-5 introduced some significant enhancements to UMTS including HSDPA, IMS and IP UTRAN. Rel-6 introduced further enhancements to UMTS including HSUPA (or E-DCH), MBMS, and Advanced Receivers.
Release 7 (Rel-7) moved beyond HSPA in its evolution to HSPA+ and also the standardization of Evolved EDGE; the final Stage 3 was published in March 2007. The evolution to 3GPP Rel-7 improved support and performance for real-time conversational and interactive services such as Push-to-Talk Over Cellular (PoC), picture and video sharing, and Voice and Video over Internet Protocol (VoIP) through the introduction of features like Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO), Continuous Packet Connectivity (CPC) and Higher Order Modulations (HOMs). These Rel-7 enhancements are called Evolved HSPA or HSPA+. Since the HSPA+ enhancements are fully backwards compatible with Rel-99/Rel-5/Rel-6, the evolution to HSPA+ has been made smooth and simple for operators.
3GPP Rel-8 specifications, frozen in December 2008 and published in March 2009, included enhancements to the Evolved HSPA (HSPA+) technology, as well as the introduction of the Evolved Packet System (EPS) which consists of a flat IP-based all-packet core (SAE/EPC) coupled with a new OFDMA-based RAN (E-UTRAN/LTE).
While the work towards completion and publication of Rel-8 was ongoing, planning for content in Rel-9 and Rel-10 began. In addition to further enhancements to HSPA+, Rel-9 was focused on LTE/EPC enhancements. Due to the aggressive schedule for Rel-8, it was necessary to limit the LTE/EPC content of Rel-8 to essential features (namely the functions and procedures to support LTE/EPC access and interoperation with legacy 3GPP and 3GPP2 radio accesses) plus a handful of high priority features (such as Single Radio Voice Call Continuity [SRVCC], generic support for non-3GPP accesses, local breakout and CS fallback). The aggressive schedule for Rel-8 was driven by the desire for fast time-to-market LTE solutions without compromising the most critical feature content. 3GPP targeted a Rel-9 specification that would quickly follow Rel-8 to enhance the initial Rel-8 LTE/EPC specification.
In parallel with Rel-9 work, 3GPP worked on a study item called LTE-Advanced, which defined the bulk of the content for Rel-10, to include significant new technology enhancements to LTE/EPC for meeting the IMT-Advanced requirements. Several milestones were achieved by vendors for both Rel-9 and Rel-10. Most significant was the final ratification by the ITU of LTE-Advanced (Rel-10) as IMT-Advanced in November 2010.
Planning is well underway for 3GPP Rel-11, which is targeted for completion by September 2012. Rel-11 will focus on continued HSPA+ and LTE/LTE-Advanced enhancements. Key technology innovations in Rel-11 include Coordinated Multi-Point (CoMP), Carrier Aggregation enhancements, enhanced ICIC and HSPA+ enhancements (8-carrier HSDPA, UL dual antenna beam forming/MIMO, DL multi-point transmission).