Qualcomm: ‘Gaming’ of 3GPP system in 5G standards-setting process is counterproductive

Some companies are trying to game the 3GPP channels that are devising 5G standards, and Qualcomm is having none of it.

The problem stems from some companies measuring their contributions to the standards bodies by the number of contributions they make rather than the quality of contributions. That, according to Qualcomm, is counterproductive and could even slow down the entire process if not kept in check.

“3GPP members—especially those that are intimate with the way 3GPP works—can easily game any contribution counting system by incentivizing their 3GPP representatives on the number of contributions they submit and get approved,” wrote Lorenzo Casaccia, vice president of technical standards at Qualcomm Technologies, in a blog post.

He cites as an example—and says this has happened—where a 3GPP member could take what would typically be a single technical contribution and split it into several contributions (or chapters) to increase the overall number. Such nonproductive behavior has already led multiple 3GPP Working Groups (WGs) to start enforcing a policy of one contribution per company per agenda item.

Casaccia told FierceWirelessTech that he isn’t naming names, so it’s not clear who exactly is trying to game the system. But Qualcomm is not alone in its concerns. (“It’s not just our paranoia,” he quipped.) A while back, the chairs of the important aforementioned groups put a cap on the number of contributions a company can submit.

Instead of submitting 10 files, for example, stakeholders should combine them into one, streamlining the process. But that doesn’t mean everybody is going to abide by what the chairman asks.

Qualcomm is of the mind that the quality (vs. the number) of contributions is what matters, as well as the proven ability to build industry-wide consensus and drive end-to-end designs through 3GPP, he said.

In a series of blog posts, Casaccia set out to “demystify” and clarify just what goes on in the 3GPP. That would appear to be a daunting task; it’s a complicated structure and not necessarily easy for non-engineering outsiders to navigate. It also happens to be an important part of determining what the next generation of wireless technologies will end up being.

3GPP is actually organized into 16 specialized WGs. The groups, along with three governing Technical Specification Groups (TSGs), are where most technical work and decisions are accomplished.

Currently, 3GPP is finalizing work on Release-14 and work is well underway on Release-15—releases are staggered and work is done on multiple releases in parallel at different stages, Casaccia explained.  

And Casaccia clarified that 3GPP develops technical specifications, not standards. That’s a subtle but important organizational clarification. 3GPP is an engineering organization that develops technical specifications, which are then transposed into standards by the seven regional Standards Setting Organizations (SSOs) that form the 3GPP partnership. In the U.S., that’s ATIS, while in Europe, it’s ETSI. China, Japan and others have their own SSOs as well.

The regional SSOs are also responsible for establishing and enforcing an Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) policy.

As for assertions that have been made that wireless standards bodies are not open to peer review as much as they should be, Casaccia said 3GPP is one of the most peer-reviewed projects out there. Some other standards organizations work on the principle of a beauty contest, but not 3GPP.

Last year, the IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee (IEEE 802) said it wanted to collaborate with the 3GPP toward support of IMT-2020 and next-generation networks.

Asked if there’s enough collaboration between the IEEE and the 3GPP on 5G, Casaccia’s answer remained consistent with some of his previous comments. The same companies that are involved in IEEE are also involved in 3GPP, so there should an expectation that they’re contributing to both groups. Internally, Qualcomm has teams that are working on both and it’s up to them to come together and talk; other companies can be expected to figure out how their teams are going to communicate.

And more unlicensed uses are sure to come for operators in 5G. Qualcomm did a lot of work to bring LAA to fruition, introducing the use of LTE into unlicensed spectrum for the first time as part of the standards, and it has begun to broaden into new related technology areas on the path to 5G. Casaccia noted as part of his blog series that 3GPP recently approved a proposal, led by Qualcomm, to begin work on studying 5G NR in unlicensed spectrum.