3GPP Standards & Release Numbers

3GPP standards are characterised by the different Release numbers. 3GPP Release 12 and 3GPP Release 13 are some of the latest, but Release 14 and Release 15 will introduce new capabilities moving towards 5G.

The 3GPP standards are continually being improved. The 3GPP standards improvements are incorporated into specific releases of the standards. These 3GPP Releases can then be tracked and the various working committees work towards the next releases.

There is a schedule of when the 3GPP Releases will be firmed up and 'released.'

The first 3GPP releases were termed Phase 1 and Phase 2. After this the releases were given the year of the anticipated releases, but after Release 99, they reverted to specific release numbers. Release 4 was also known as 3GPP Release 2000.

3GPP Release topics

3GPP Phase 1 reflected the first introduction of GSM. Work on GSM was the main focus through until Release 98.

3GPP Release 99 was the first release of the UMTS / WCDMA standard, and work on this proceeded with the introduction of HSDPA, the HSUPA to form HSPA.

3GPP Release 8 saw the first introduction of LTE and this was steadily updated with enhancements of LTE with LTE-A and improvements to many areas.

Moving on, 3GPP Release 14, Release 15, and Release 16 will include the 5G technologies. Initially 3GPP Release 14 will include elements that build towards 5G, the next two including the actual specifications for it.

3GPP Release schedule and summary

The table below gives the approximate dates and some of the salient features of the different 3GPP Releases for their standards.

3GPP Releases
3GPP Release Release date Details
Phase 1 1992 Basic GSM
Phase 2 1995 GSM features including EFR Codec
Release 96 Q1 1997 GSM Updates, 14.4 kbps user data
Release 97 Q1 1998 GSM additional features, GPRS
Release 98 Q1 1999 GSM additional features, GPRS for PCS 1900, AMR, EDGE
Release 99 Q1 2000 3G UMTS incorporating WCDMA radio access
Release 4 Q2 2001 UMTS all-IP Core Network
Release 5 Q1 2002 IMS and HSDPA
Release 6 Q4 2004 HSUPA, MBMS, IMS enhancements, Push to Talk over Cellular, operation with WLAN
Release 7 Q4 2007 Improvements in QoS & latency, VoIP, HSPA+, NFC integration, EDGE Evolution
Release 8 Q4 2008 Introduction of LTE, SAE, OFDMA, MIMO, Dual Cell HSDPA
Release 9 Q4 2009 WiMAX / LTE / UMTS interoperability, Dual Cell HSDPA with MIMO, Dual Cell HSUPA, LTE HeNB
Release 10 Q1 2011 LTE-Advanced, Backwards compatibility with Release 8 (LTE), Multi-Cell HSDPA
Release 11 Q3 2012 Heterogeneous networks (HetNet), Coordinated Multipoint (CoMP), In device Coexistence (IDC), Advanced IP interconnection of Services,
Release 12 March 2015 Enhanced Small Cells operation, Carrier Aggregation (2 uplink carriers, 3 downlink carriers, FDD/TDD carrier aggregation), MIMO (3D channel modelling, elevation beamforming, massive MIMO), MTC - UE Cat 0 introduced, D2D communication, eMBMS enhancements.
Release 13 Scheduled for March 2016 LTE-U / LTE-LAA, LTE-M, Elevation beamforming / Full Dimension MIMO, Indoor positioning, LTE-M Cat 1.4MHz & Cat 200kHz introduced
Release 14 Mid 2017 Elements on road to 5G
Release 15 End 2018 5G Phase 1 specification
Release 16 2020 5G Phase 2 specification

It should be noted that each release updates all the 3GPP standards - even the GSM standards are being updated in the various 3GPP Releases.

The 3GPP standards and specifications cover all aspects of the cellular / mobile communications systems from the radio access network to the network, billing, authentication and much more.

Each 3GPP Release will update very many elements, many of which will not hit the headlines.

By Ian Poole

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