3GPP and ITU

Daniel Weibel
Created 12 Jan 2016
Last updated 5 Nov 2017

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is the organisation that creates and maintains the technical standards for global mobile communication technologies, including GSM, GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSPA, LTE, and future 5G technologies.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is a United Nations organisation that regulates the global use of mobile telecommunciation. The ITU sets the guidelines and requirements by which 3GPP must work.


Members of 3GPP come from regional standardisation bodies, and from the radio communication industry, for example telecommunication service providers and manufacturers.


3GPP 3rd Generation Partnership Project
TSG Technical Specifiation Group
WG Working Group
PCG Project Coordination Group


3GPP is divided into three Technical Specification Groups (TSG), each one covering a broad aspect of mobile radio networks. The TSGs in turn consists of several Working Groups (WG). The working groups all have their own technical focus within the area of their TSG.

The working groups produce specifications in the form of documents called Technical Specifications (TS) or Technical Reports (TR). All these documents are publicly available through the 3GPP website.

  • PCG
    • TSG RAN (Radio Access Network): UTRA/E-UTRA network in FDD and TDD mode
      • RAN WG1
      • RAN WG2
      • RAN WG3
      • RAN WG4
      • RAN WG5
      • RAN WG6
    • TSG SA (Service & Systems Aspects): overall architecture and service capabilities
      • SA WG1
      • SA WG2
      • SA WG3
      • SA WG4
      • SA WG5
      • SA WG6
    • TSG CT (Core Network & Terminals): UE (terminal) capabilities and core network
      • CT WG1
      • CT WG3
      • CT WG4
      • CT WG6

An overview of the different TSGs and working groups can be found here.

3GPP Releases

3GPP publishes new standards as so-called releases. A release consists of many individual specifications that work consistenly together.

The milestones of 3GPP are these releases, and not full “next generation” technologies like UMTS, LTE, or 5G. These latter terms are just fuzzy labels that are not clearly defined, in contrast to the 3GPP releases which are very clearly specified and documented.

For example, Release 8 marks the introduction of LTE specifications, and all the subsequent releases thru Release 14 introduce improvements and extensions to the existing LTE specifications. A technology like LTE is thus an evolving standard rather than a fixed set of technologies.

An overview of all past 3GPP releases can be found here.

Timeline of 3GPP Releases

  • Release 8
    • Freeze date: December 2008
  • Release 9
    • Freeze date: March 2010
  • Release 10
    • Freeze date: September 2011
    • LTE Advanced
  • Release 11
    • Freeze date: March 2013
  • Release 12:
    • Freeze date: March 2015
    • Enhanced local-area access
    • Enhanced multi-antenna/multi-point transmission
      • Active-array antenna systems
      • Three-dimensional beamforming
      • Massive MIMO
      • Enhanced coordinated multipoint (CoMP) transmission/reception
    • Enhanced machine-type communication
    • Introduction of device-to-device communication
      • Public safety (with and without network assistance)
      • Commercial applications (with network assistance)
  • Release 13
    • Freeze date: June 2016
    • Extensions of LTE
    • Features:
      • Offloading to unlicensed spectrum
      • MTC (machine type communication)
  • Release 14
    • Features
      • Low-latency LTE
  • Release 15
    • First release containing “5G” specifications

Three-Stage Methodology

3GPP creates new standards according to the following methodology:

  • Stage 1: define the service requirements from the user’s point of view
  • Stage 2: define an architecture to support the service requirements
  • Stage 3: define an implementation of the architecture by specifying protocols in detail

Methodology defined in ITU-T Recommendation I.130


The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is an agency of the United Nations (UN) responsible for global issues of telecommunication technologies.

ITU coordinates the global use of the radio spectrum, and defines requirements for next-generation mobile communication technologies.

ITU Sectors

ITU is divided into the following three sectors:

ITU Requirements

ITU-R defines technical requirements for next-generation mobile communication technologies. These requirements may include minimum data rates, coverage, reliability, etc.

These requirements define what is generally known as 3G, 4G, 5G, etc.

The standards created by 3GPP aim at meeting these requirements. It is only when a 3GPP release meets the next ITU requirement, that it “merits” the label 3G, 4G, etc. For example, the ITU requirement for 4G (IMT-Advanced) was met by 3GPP Release 10, which is generally known as LTE-Advanced. Thus, strictly speaking, the earlier LTE versions of Release 8 and 9 were not yet 4G, and it is LTE-Advanced that was the first real 4G technology.

The following are the past few ITU requirements

  • IMT-2000
    • Defines “3G”
    • Year of release: 2000
  • IMT-Advanced
    • Defines “4G”
    • Year of release: 2012
    • Met by LTE Advanced (3GPP Release 10)
  • IMT-2020
    • Defines “5G”
    • In progress
    • Estimated release date: 2020

Note that IMT stands for International Mobile Telecommunication and is the ITU name for the cellular mobile communication (the business of 3GPP).

World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC)

The World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) is organised by ITU-R, and held typically every 3 to 4 years in Geneva.

The WRC regulates the use of the radio-frequency spectrum in the different world regions. It allocates frequency bands to different applications, including mobile cellular communication (the business of 3GPP), which is called International Mobile Telecommunication (IMT) by ITU.

The following is a list of some of the past and future conferences:

WRC-15 and WRC-19

Of particular interest is WRC-15 and the coming WRC-19 with regard to millimetre-wave (mmWave) technologies for IMT (i.e. 5G).

Resolutions of WRC-15:

  • Frequency bands made available for IMT:
    • 470–694/698 MHz (600 MHz) – primarily for some countries in Americas and APAC
    • 694–790 MHz (700 MHz, Region 1) – for Region 1 (EMEA) as a result out of WRC-12, effectuated at WRC-15
    • 1427–1518 MHz (L-band) - global band
    • 3300–3400 MHz – for some countries in all three ITU Regions
    • 3400–3600 MHz (C-band) – additional country support making this a global band
    • 3600–3700 MHz (C-band) – for some countries globally
    • 4800–4990 MHz – for some few countries in APAC and one in Americas
  • Agenda item for WRC-19 to study the bands 24.25–27.5 GHz, 31.8–33.4 GHz, 37–43.5 GHz, 45.5–50.2 GHz, 50.4–52.6 GHz, 66-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz for IMT-2020 (5G)

Expectations for WRC-19:

  • Higher-frequency spectrum allocations for IMT (>24 GHz)

Reactions to WRC-15