European consortium contributes to global standards for 4G technologyNovember 16, 2011
A European consortium has developed global standards for the next generation of mobile communication devices. Their breakthrough will help contribute to new products and business worldwide, while making smartphones even smarter.
What happens when European communications companies meet top research institutes? A consortium, which includes a number of large European and global companies, was formed as a EUREKA framework research programme called WINNER+ and has contributed to standards which are already being used around the world, enabling increases in the capabilities of mobile communication. These increases will include new ecosystems for mobile systems and devices, generating wide ranges of new products, employment and company revenues around the world.
WINNER+ is the third phase of a series of development started in 2004 funded through the European framework programme. EUREKA's Euroepan mobile communication cluster CELTIC was the ideal platform to launch the technology on the market after the initial research was completed. WINNER+ was born in April 2008, after the World Radio Communication conference identified additional radio frequency spectrum which could be used for mobile applications.
The results of the previous research stages, which include radio network capabilities that are already ahead of state-of-the-art, were used as the starting point. Could WINNER+ push those boundaries even further forwards? 3G standards, used by mobile phones already for ten years allow consumers to connect to Internet from wherever they want, helping them access services such as mobile TV or video-conferencing from their handsets. What the project developed are new generation 4G standards which will make Internet on smartphones even faster and wireless Internet connections more reliable.
Consensus was very hard to find in establishing standards for 3G after several competing proposals were developed. Major companies had put in a great deal of time, effort and money into research and development and were unwilling to give it up. This time was different. By building on the previous projects, WINNER+ brought together most of the major telecommunications companies at a very early stage.
As each company was starting from the same point, each had significantly less invested in 4G and so could be more flexible as development progressed. The basic concepts of the new system were a joint development. WINNER+ built directly onto these developments and exploited them towards global standards. Additionally, since the end goal was the same for everyone - agreed standards - there was little incentive to try and gain an advantage over others. The result was much smoother development.
As Dr Werner Mohr of Nokia Siemens Networks explains, "This meant that the capabilities and concepts were developed together and so there was much more support for the eventual solutions. This was a major achievement." With many of the project partners also playing an active role in the industry trade bodies and standards committees, the consortium was well placed to facilitate workable agreements. EUREKA played a crucial role in this cooperation. Many of the companies are competitors meaning that there are some very real constraints to working together, both from the perspective of sharing crucial research and development data and from the possibility of alleged anti-trust behaviour.
The EUREKA touch
The 29 partners in the consortium come from a wide range of European countries and many compete against each other in the same national markets. By enabling a legal relationship between the different parties, using the same publicly available legal conditions for everyone, the framework provided by EUREKA smoothed out potential bumps and also enabled funding for some of the research.
Since research funding is awarded on a national level, some parties were able to receive financial assistance while others were not. EUREKA provided the label enabling the applications for national funding. Around half of the companies found funding, but the strategic carrot of being involved in contributing to the setting of future global standards ensured that all the parties allocated funds for research when required. The experience of other platforms in recent years suggests that there will be many potential benefits to the standards being influenced by WINNER+.
An Unlimited potential
The development of new mobile and wireless systems and devices and the potentially unlimited number of applications for these devices has the power to enable innovation, create companies, employment and profits on a global scale. Dr Mohr suggests that these are secondary effects, which are impossible to estimate in advance, but have the potential to enhance the lives of mobile users with creative new products, services and possibilities.
He describes a time lag of several years between research and system development of new radio systems before it becomes clear just how important the new capabilities will be, but he has "very high hopes". In contrast to many of the entrepreneurs and small companies that may emerge, the project partners included telecommunications network operators with national, international or global businesses. For these companies, the ability to maintain revenues and jobs as new technology develops is just as important.
There are hopes that the next round of innovations from WINNER+ will include new peer to peer communications between devices, new ways to use and share radio frequency spectrum and advances in radio resource management. In other words, much greater capabilities in services that we already take for granted. With a total research budget between the partners of over €12 million, there is clearly a lot at stake in the mobile communications industry. WINNER+ is a great example of European companies developing industry leading technologies and standards.