UMTS 3G History

A summary of the history of how IMT-2000 was developed and lead to 3G UMTS and CDMA2000 and overview of 3GPP releases.

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With GSM being developed and deployed, the eyes of the development community started to look at the next cellular developments which would provide greater more functionality and greater levels of efficiency. The UMTS 3G history shows how these basic ideas turned into reality and changed the way in which mobile telecommunications was used.

The UMTS 3G history shows that despite many set backs, UMTS was able to become established as the major 3G technology providing new standards in cellular telecommunications performance, functionality, and convenience. The 3G history shows that UMTS became the dominant 3G technology, setting the foundations for a single worldwide 4G standard in future years.

3G beginnings and IMT-2000

The International Mobile Telecommunications-2000, IMT-2000 standard is actually a family of standards for third generation (3G) wireless communications. It defines the broad outlines and requirements for standards that can be called 3G standards. It was set in place by the International Telecommunications Union (Radio Communications section), ITU-R.

In the 1980s work started on looking at, what was termed in the ITU-R the "Future Public Land Mobile Telecommunications System". However with the deployment on GSM and other 2G technologies the impetus for the development of the next generation system was not present.

It was not until the early 1990s that progress was seen. A working group was set up and also the 1992 World Administrative Radio Conference (WARC'92) allocated 230 MHz of spectrum between 1885 and 2025 and 2110 and 2200 MHz.

A number of organizations recognized the need for a global standard for the next generation of mobile telecommunications services. ETSI in Europe moving towards what they termed their Universal Mobile Telecommunications System, UMTS and in Japan the forerunner of the Association of Radio Industries and Businesses, ARIB undertaking a study. To enable a single standard to be adopted the ITU-R requested each regional Standards Development Organisation (SDO) to submit proposals for a Radio Transmission Technology.

As a result, between 1996 and 1998 companies and regional SDOs worked towards their proposal submissions.

A total of 17 different proposals were submitted. Of these eleven were for terrestrial systems and the remain six were for satellite systems. The evaluation of the proposals was completed during 1998 but during early 1999 it was necessary to gain some form of consensus. Once this was complete, by the end of 1999 the specification for the radio Transmission Technology was released by the end of 1999.

Although many proposals were submitted there were several that were considerably more important than others. These included:

  • UMTS / WCDMA:   The Universal Mobile Telecommunications System using wideband CDMA was the successor to the highly successful GSM system that was initially deployed around Europe, but was spreading rapidly worldwide.
  • CDMA2000:   This scheme was the successor to the cdmaOne system defined under Interim Standard IS-95 which was the first system to be deployed using CDMA technology.
  • TDS-CDMA:   This was a scheme developed in China that adopted many elements of the GSM / UMTS technology but was optimised for Time Division Duplex.

NB: The GSM evolution, EDGE also complied to the IMT-2000 definition for a 3G standard, although it was more commonly referred to as a 2.75G standard.

Of the main IMT-2000 systems, history has shown that UMTS has became the most widely deployed of the 3G systems. It offered global roaming as well as being designed to enable more applications than many of its competitors. Also as it followed on from GSM, it had a very wide base on which to build.

3GPP and 3GPP2 history

In 1998 the various SDOs interested in UMTS banded together to form the 3rd Generation Partnership Programme, 3GPP by signing the 3rd Generation Partnership Project Agreement. Historically, the scope of 3GPP was to produce technical specifications and reports for a 3G system based on evolved GSM core networks, and the resulting radio access technology, i.e. both FDD and TDD versions of UMTS.

The work on the UMTS standard progressed rapidly and the first release, known as Release 99 took place in 1999. Further releases have appeared periodically since then to incorporate additional changes and additions to the standards including High Speed Packet Downlink Access - HSDPA, High Speed Packet Uplink Access - HSUPA and Long Term Evolution - LTE.

The success of 3GPP subsequently lead to the organisation taking on the maintenance and development the GSM, GPRS and EDGE technical specifications and reports. Ore recently it has undertaken the development of the 3G LTE and LTE Advanced technical specifications and reports.

A similar organisation, known as the 3rd Generation Partnership Programme 2, 3GPP2, was set up to develop and manage the standards and reports for the CDMA2000 cellular telecommunications system.

3GPP release dates and contents

The first release for the 3GPP standard took place in 1999. Since then a number of further releases have taken place, each introducing changes to correct problems, but more importantly adding further functionality. These 3GPP releases are summarised below:

3GPP Release Release date Summary
3GPP Release 99 1999 First release of the UMTS standard
3GPP Release 4 2001 This release added features including an all-IP core network. It was originally referred to as Release 2000
3GPP Release 5 2002 This 3GPP release introduced the IP Multimedia Subsystem, IMS and High Speed Packet Downlink Access, HSDPA
3GPP Release 6 2004 This release of the standard integrated the operation of UMTS with wireless LAN networks and added enhancements to IMS (including Push to talk over Cellular), Generic Access Network, GAN, and it added High Speed Packet Uplink Access, HSUPA.
3GPP Release 7 2007 This Release of the 3GPP standard detailed improvements to QoS for applications such as VoIP. The release also detailed upgrades for High Speed Packet Access Evolution, HSPA+, as well as changes for EDGE Evolution and it also provided interfaces to enable operation with Near Field Communication, NFC technology.
3GPP Release 8 2008 3GPP Release 8 provided the details for the LTE System Architecture Evolution, SAE, an all-IP network architecture providing the capacity and low latency required for LTE and future evolutions.
3GPP Release 9 End 2009 This added further enhancements to the SAE as well as allowing for WiMax and LTE/UMTS interoperability.
3GPP Release 10 Estimated 2010 This release of the 3GPP standard detailed the 4G LTE Advanced technology.

Note: Pre-Release 98 releases refer to pre 3G, i.e. GSM, GPRS, EDGE standards.

3G spectrum auctions

One of the main disasters that took place within the telecommunications industry was the sale of spectrum for the 3G licences within Europe. With operators moving towards the development and ultimate deployment of the forthcoming 3G services cellular telecommunications operators within Europe 3G spectrum auctions were set up at the beginning of 2000. Although a similar 3G spectrum auction had been abandoned previously in the USA because it was felt the costs were too high for the operators to bear, nevertheless Europe still went ahead. However the European governments, in particular the UK and Germany looked at the sale as an opportunity for levying a windfall tax.

The 3G spectrum auction was offered on a sealed bid basis. Knowing that in order to continue their operations, the cellular operators would need to secure a licence for the 3G spectrum, this forced the prices very high bids.

Accordingly the network operators took risks and also incurred high levels of debt. In the UK a total of British pounds, GBP 22.5 billion was raised and around GBP 30 billion in Germany. This meant that the operators were saddled with huge debts that would take many years to pay off even assuming that 3G was a great success.

On top of the crippling debts incurred for the spectrum, network operators also had to invest in the 3G infrastructure and its deployment. As a result the network operators were very keen to see 3G developments speeded up so that they could start to see a return on their investment and the interest charges they were paying. However the delays in the development of 3G handsets proved to be a major hurdle.

Subsequent auctions in other areas of the world met with much lower bids. Network operators could not afford the amounts they paid for spectrum in Europe. In particular those auctions in Australia and New Zealand raised much smaller amounts. Other countries used other more tenable business models. For example in Hong Kong a profit sharing approach was adopted. This avoided the huge up-front costs of the auctions elsewhere.

UMTS 3G deployments history

With the success of GSM building, and reaching the 1 billion subscriber mark, the first deployments of UMTS started. One of the holding factors in some of the deployments was the fact that few handsets were available. Using CDMA technology as well as having many new features, developers had experienced difficulty in matching the handset requirements and functionality to the IC technology that was available. Battery consumption was one major resulting issue. As a result, many operators had to delay their deployments.

Some milestones were achieved to show that progress was being made:

  • 1998 - September 1998   The first call was completed in DoCoMo's trial network at the Nokia R&D establishment near Tokyo, Japan.
  • 1999 - February   Nokia successfully it has tested what was claimed to be the first WCDMA call through the public switched telephone network in the world at the Nokia test network in Finland using a WCDMA terminal, WCDMA base station subsystem and Nokia GSM Mobile with switching centres connected to the PSTN.
  • 2001 - April   Ericsson and Vodafone UK claimed to have made the world's first WCDMA voice call over commercial network
  • 2001 - June   NTT DoCoMo launched a trial 3G service.

With the development milestones showing significant progress, the first deployments started. These were slow at first, but the momentum soon started to increase:

  • 2001 - October   NTT DoCoMo launched the first commercial WCDMA 3G mobile network.
  • 2001 - December   The first commercial European network was opened for business by Telenor, although no handsets were available immediately.
  • 2003 - March   On 3rd March 2003, (03-03-03), the UK operator 3 launched the first 3G service in the UK.

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