Harri Holma and Antti Toskala

1.1 WCDMA Early Phase

The research work towards third generation (3G) mobile systems started in the early 1990s. The aim was to develop a radio system capable of supporting up to 2 Mbps data rates. The WCDMA air interface was selected in Japan in 1997 and in Europe in January 1998. The global WCDMA specification activities were combined into a third generation partnership project (3GPP) that aimed to create the first set of specifications by the end of 1999, called Release 99. The first WCDMA network was opened by NTT DoCoMo in Japan 2001, using a proprietary version of the 3GPP specifications. The first 3GPP-compliant network opened in Japan by the end of 2002 and in Europe in 2003 (3 April 2003).

The operators had paid extraordinary prices for the UMTS spectrum in the auctions in the early 2000s and expectations for 3G systems were high. Unfortunately, the take-up of 3G devices and services turned out to be very slow. The global number of WCDMA subscribers was less than 20 million by the end of 2004 and more than 50% of them were located in Japan. The slow take-up can be attributed to many factors: it took time to get the system working in a stable way—the protocol specifications in particular caused a lot of headaches. The terminal suffered from high power consumption and from short talk time. The terminal prices also remained high due to low volumes. The packet-based mobile services had not yet been developed and the terminal displays ...

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