3GPP and ITU Tutorial


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 β€œnext 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 99
    Specifications & Technologies

    • UMTS (3G)
  • Release 4
    Specifications & Technologies

  • Release 5
    Specifications & Technologies

    • HSDPA (3.5G)
  • Release 6
    Specifications & Technologies

    • HSUPA
  • Release 7
    Specifications & Technologies

    • HSPA+
  • Release 8
    Specifications & Technologies

    • Freeze date: December 2008
      • Initial LTE Standard
      • OFDMA waveform
      • FDD/TDD operation
      • IP-based EPC
  • Release 9
    Specifications & Technologies

    • Freeze date: March 2010
      • LTE Broadcast (eMBMS)
      • LTE Positioning (LCS)
      • Enhanced voice fallback (CSFB)
      • VoLTE
  • Release 10
    Specifications & Technologies

    • Freeze date: September 2011
      • LTE Advanced
      • Carrier Aggregation (CA)
      • HetNets (eICIC-IC2)
      • Advanced MIMO
  • Release 11
    Specifications & Technologies

    • Freeze date: March 2013
      • Coordinate multipoint (CoMP)
      • HetNets enhancements (feICIC-IC2)
  • Release 12
    Specifications & Technologies

    • Freeze date: March 2015
      • Dual Connect
      • FDD-TDD CA
      • 256 QAM
      • D2D
      • 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
      • 32x CA
      • FD-MIMO
      • LTE Unlicensed (LAA)
      • Offloading to unlicensed spectrum
      • MTC (machine type communication)
        • LTE IoT (eMTC, NB-IoT)
  • Release 14

    • Freeze date: June 2017
      • Enhanced LAA (eLAA)
      • Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X)
      • Digital TV BroadCast (enTV)
      • Low-latency LTE
  • Release 15

    • Freeze date: June 2019
      • First release containing β€œ5G” (NR) specifications
      • The 5G System – Phase 1
      • Massive MTC and Internet of Things (IoT)
      • Vehicle-to-Everything Communications (V2x) Phase 2
      • Mission Critical (MC) interworking with legacy systems
      • WLAN and unlicensed spectrum use
      • Slicing – logical end-2-end networks
      • API Exposure – 3rd party access to 5G services
      • Service Based Architecture (SBA)
      • Further LTE improvements
      • Mobile Communication System for Railways (FRMCS)
      • Drone/ULL communications
  • Release 16

    • Freeze date: Open
      • The 5G System – Phase 2
      • V2x Phase 3: Platooning, extended sensors, automated driving, remote driving
      • Industrial IoT
      • Ultra-Reliable and Low Latency Communication (URLLC) enhancements
      • NR-based access to unlicensed spectrum
      • 5G Efficiency: Interference Mitigation, SON, eMIMO, Location and positioning, Power Consumption, eDual Connectivity, Device capabilities exchange, Mobility enhancements
      • Enhancements for Common API Framework for 3GPP Northbound APIs (eCAPIF)
      • FRMCS Phase 2
  • Release 17

    • Freeze date: Open
      • NR Light
      • Small data transfer optimization
      • Sidelink enhancements
      • NR above 52.6 GHz (inlc 60GHz unlicensed)
      • Multi SIM operation
      • NR multicast broadcast
      • Coverage enhancements
      • NB-IoT and eMTC enhancements
      • Industrial IoT & URLLC enhancements
      • MIMO enhancements
      • NR for Non Terrestrial Networks
      • Integrated Access and Backhaul enhancements
      • Generic enhancements to NR-U
      • Power saving enhancements
      • RAN data collection enhancements
      • Positioning enhancements

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 β€œmerits” 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 β€œ3G”
    • Year of release: 2000
  • IMT-Advanced
    • Defines β€œ4G”
    • Year of release: 2012
    • Met by LTE Advanced (3GPP Release 10)
  • IMT-2020
    • Defines β€œ5G”
    • 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-93 (Nov. 1993)
  • WRC-95 (23 Oct.–17 Nov. 1995)
  • WRC-97 (27 Oct.–21 Nov. 1997)
  • WRC-2000 (8 May–2 Jun. 2000)
  • WRC-03 (9 Jun.–4 Jul. 2003)
  • WRC-07 (22 Oct.–16 Nov. 2007)
  • WRC-12 (23 Jan.–17 Feb. 2012)
  • WRC-15 (2 Nov.–27 Nov. 2015)
  • WRC-19 (28 Oct.–22 Nov. 2019)
  • WRC-23 (2023)

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)


This summary for 3GPP and ITU will always be updated, as standards continue to evolve.

Credits: This is a modification of the original article 3GPP and ITU
Unfortunately, this website is not update for years, but information is interesting for the telecom community. But fortunately, the author allow us to continue the work: Creative Commons β€” Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International β€” CC BY-SA 4.0

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Admin note: this post was updated with image below.

Release 18


5G in Release 17 – strong radio evolution

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I am very proud to read these information very helpful and meets my goal to understand telecommunication organization and today I have strengthened my weakness.

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Perfect link list to 3GPP 5G NR standards documents

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The enhancements in the 3GPP releases 16 and 17 of 5G New Radio include both extensions to existing features as well as features that address new verticals and deployment scenarios. Operation in unlicensed spectrum, intelligent transportation systems, Industrial Internet of Things, and non-terrestrial networks are just a few of the highlights.

This Ericsson Technology Review article summarizes the most notable new developments in releases 16 and 17. This analysis and our insights about the future beyond Release 17 is an important component of our work to help mobile network operators and other stakeholders better understand and plan for the many new 5G NR opportunities that are on the horizon:

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The standards set by 3GPP closely correspond with IMT-2020. Some of the key points for the 5G definition are:

  • Peak data rate – 5G will offer very fast data speeds. Theoretically, data rates can hit 20 Gbps downlink and 10 Gbps uplink.
  • Real-world speeds – While the theoretical rates are very impressive, real-world 5G internet speed will not be the same. The specification calls for user download speeds of 100Mbps and upload speeds of 50Mbps.
  • Latency – Latency should be at 4 milliseconds in ideal circumstances and at one millisecond for Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC).
  • Efficiency - Ideally, a radio should be able to switch into a low-energy state within 10 milliseconds when no longer in use.
  • Spectral efficiency - 5G should have a slightly improved spectral efficiency over 4G, coming at around 30bits/Hz uplink and 15bits/Hz downlink.
  • Mobility - With 5G cellular networks, base stations should support movement from 0 to 310 mph. This means the base station should work across a range of antenna movements β€” even on a high-speed train.
  • Connection density - 5G should be able to support many more connected devices than 4G. The standard states that the 5G network map should be able to support 1 million connected devices per square kilometre.
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What was just frozen:

Historical release 16 timeline:

What’s expected for the next year or two:

Summary of all the main features in each release is now documented in special document: 21.914 (Rel-14), 21.915 (Rel-15) and 21.916 (Rel-16)

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This doesn’t seem true, there are NSA networks which has been upgraded to Rel 16 already

I don’t know if any major vendor even support Rel-16 spec.

Yes, Huawei.

This is an amazing site with 3GPP Releases summary:

Tech Invite via telecomHall

This is also a very informative article about 5G: The complicated relationship between ITU and 3GPP.

I’m curious in knowing or rather understanding as to why 3GPP decided to have two related flags, i.e., RF (Re-segmentation Flag) and FI (Frame Indicator).
When both of them indicate the same thing [according to me]?

Can any one of you please help to understand it from a 3GPP design perspective?

3GPP Release 17 timeline agreed

5G Networks

Demystifying 3GPP and the essential role of Qualcomm in leading the mobile ecosystem expansion

Old (September 2018) but good 3gpp overview.

Also, a blog: Understanding 3GPP – starting with the basics | Qualcomm

A brief guide on how to read 3GPP Specifications.
Let me know if you have any useful tips to share !

Useful information, thanks @samohiuddin!

5G Relase 18 (all in one page)

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