The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is a collaboration between groups of telecommunications associations, known as the Organizational Partners. The initial scope of 3GPP was to make a globally applicable third-generation (3G) mobile phone system specification based on evolved Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) specifications within the scope of the International Mobile Telecommunications-2000 project of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The scope was later enlarged to include the development and maintenance of:
- GSM and related "2G" and "2.5G" standards including GPRS and EDGE
- UMTS and related "3G" standards including HSPA
- LTE and related "4G" standards
- An evolved IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) developed in an access independent manner
3GPP standardization encompasses Radio, Core Network and Service architecture. The project was established in December 1998 and should not be confused with 3rd Generation Partnership Project 2 (3GPP2), which specifies standards for another 3G technology based on IS-95 (CDMA), commonly known as CDMA2000. The 3GPP support team (also known as the "Mobile Competence Centre") is located at the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) headquarters in Sophia-Antipolis (France).
The 3rd Generation Partnership Project initiative eventually arose from a strategic initiative between Nortel Networks and AT&T Wireless. In 1998 AT&T Wireless was operating an IS-136 (TDMA) wireless network in the United States. In 1997 Nortel Networks' Wireless R&D center in Richardson, Texas, the wireless division of Bell Northern Research had developed a vision for "an all Internet Protocol (IP)" wireless network that went under the internal name "Cell Web". As the concept progressed, Nortel launched the industry vision as "Wireless Internet". AT&T Wireless, poised to evolve its network in the United States, took a strong interest in Wireless Internet and its promise of Internet Protocol (with Nortel Networks as the potential supplier). Within 12 months or so, AT&T launched a global initiative that they named "3GIP", a third generation wireless standard that was "natively" Internet Protocol based. Initially, principal participants included British Telecom, France Telecom, Telecom Italia, and Nortel Networks, but were eventually joined by NTT DoCoMo, BellSouth, Telenor, and Lucent, Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia, and others. A 3GIP standards forum was instituted and standards began to be developed. The forum progressed into the 2000 time frame, up until AT&T Wireless and British Telecom formed a strategic "partnership project" to facilitate "global roaming" between U.S. and European markets. With this business arrangement, GSM, the prevailing European standard was adopted as the basis of AT&T Wireless' network evolution for North America. Very specifically, this included the deployment of GSM data capabilities, i.e. GPRS, EDGE, and its evolution to UMTS. With this, the original acronym "3GIP" morphed into "3GPP", a "3rd Generation Partnership Project" for defining the next generation wireless network that was fundamentally capable of supporting Internet Protocol based wireless communications. 3GPP became the industry standards forum that defined UMTS and more recently LTE.