The 3G Partnership Project - a consortium of 200 wireless vendors and operators - has begun a study to determine the feasibility of defining a standard that supports wireless downlink speeds as high as 100Mbps.
For users, the technology promises greater bandwidth for support of new and emerging wireless applications and services. For service providers, it could introduce radio spectrum efficiencies and herald a new wave of revenue-generating services.
At its December meeting in Athens, the group agreed to "undertake a study on the longer term evolution of the (3G) radio interface," a 3GPP spokesman said. The study will be conducted by the 3GPP's Radio Access Network (RAN) working group, which expects to complete its investigation in June 2006.
Specifications for this "Super 3G" standard might be ready by June 2007, according to the 3GPP spokesman.
Although the proposal for the study was authored by 26 firms within the 3GPP - including NTT DoCoMo, Alcatel, Cingular Wireless, Ericsson, Lucent Technologies, Motorola, Nokia, Nortel Networks, Qualcomm, Siemens AG, T-Mobile USA and Vodafone Group - the work will include all 200 members of the 3GPP, the spokesman said.
The project follows up a 3GPP RAN Longterm Evolution Workshop that took place in Toronto last November. The work does not specify any particular technologies - such as High-speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA), Evolution-Data Only (EV-DO), Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) or Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) - but indicates a need for identifying methods for greater bandwidth that maximize the use of the radio spectrum, and offer increased flexibility for the delivery of future services, the spokesman said.
The study's task is to define the relevant technologies, spectrum requirements and other issues - and then to launch the standardization activity, he said.
Currently, 3G technologies, such as EV-DO and UMTS, offer speeds of up to 2.4Mbps and 384Kbps, respectively. Both are based on Code Division Multiple Access technology.
OFDM provides download speeds between 1M and 1.5Mbps, and upload speeds between 300K and 500bps. HSDPA, which is being trialed by Cingular and other operators, offers data rates up to 14.4Mbps.
With these available options and work underway to define fourth-generation (4G) wireless standards, some analysts question the need for Super 3G. The all-IP-based 4G, which NTT DoCoMo has tested since 1998, is said to reach speeds of 100M to 300Mbps. It's considered by some - like India's IT and communications ministry - to be a more cost-effective high-speed alternative to 3G.
"There are a number of standards already out there -- and being formed at the present time -- to define 4G," senior analyst at Visant Strategies, Larry Swasey, said. "It seems, at least for the next four or five years, the plate's set: You know what you need, you know what you're going to use.
"So Super 3G isn't really relevant until someone shows a market need."