Carriers unite for future mobile networks

Some of the world's biggest cellular operators have gotten together to promote their vision of what next-generation mobile technology should look like.

Sprint Nextel Corp., Vodafone Group PLC, China Mobile Communications Corp., Orange PLC, NTT DoCoMo Inc., Royal KPN NV and T-Mobile International AG & Co. KG announced Thursday they have formed the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) initiative. NGMN, a nonprofit group based in London, won't push a particular type of network but rather a set of guidelines that future technologies should follow, said Steve Falk, vice president of global standards at Sprint.

"We think that we can speak with a more organized and concerted voice that we have in the past," Falk said. Vendors and standards organizations had stronger voices in the development of 2G (second-generation) and 3G systems. Carriers will represent the interests of their customers, the end users, he said.

The group, which is already consulting with equipment vendors but will only include carriers as members, may be pitting itself against Qualcomm Inc., which developed much of the current 3G (third-generation) technology and has been criticized in some quarters for its royalty and licensing practices.

The NGMN is looking toward the technologies to follow 3G systems such as HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) and EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized). Carriers are still deploying and upgrading those networks, which are based on GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access) respectively, but even faster technologies are coming down the road. Sprint, for one, has called WiMax its 4G technology and plans to roll it out across the U.S. within the next few years. In choosing WiMax, the carrier used some of the guidelines NGMN was formulating, Falk said.

Among NGMN's recommended features are the following:

- high data throughput with low latency

- low operation and maintenance costs

- support for authentication, security and differentiated quality of service

Carriers also will favor technologies covered by FRAND (fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory) intellectual property rules, Falk said.

"One of the principles of NGMN is an open and transparent IPR (intellectual property rights) regime," he said.

The NGMN would like to see a single technology track and believes greater harmony will lower costs and speed up product development for vendors, too.

"In some cases, 2G and 3G vendors have had to do very costly and time-consuming development on three to five different kinds of technology," Falk said. Being able to focus on one or two tracks, in turn, will help bring products and services to mobile subscribers faster and more economically, he said.

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