2019 Fellow: Our exclusive interview with Fred Hillebrand

Fred, what was your main involvement with ETSI?

I was appointed Chair of Technical Committee SMG (Special Mobile Group) for the period from 1996 to 2000. SMG was responsible for GSM and UMTS standardization. It had 150 delegates in plenary, 11 Sub-Committees and 50 Working Groups.

What was the main ongoing work?

GSM had been converted from a monolithic system to a platform with an open long-term feature evolution called GSM Phase 2+ in 1993. During the period from 1996 to 2000, SMG worked hard on this evolution.

How successful was GSM in the world market?

GSM was the leading 2G mobile communication system. The number of countries that implemented GSM networks grew from 70 to 140 in the period from 1996 to 2000. To ensure the continuation of this success, standardization with a strong focus on global market needs and a high speed of innovation was needed.

Was the GSM Phase 2+ programme sufficient for the future success?

In 1995/6 it became clear that a satisfying mobile Internet access required much higher data rates than GSM Phase 2+ could provide. Fortunately, a European research program called UMTS had achieved some useful results.

How was this integrated into the standardization process?

TC SMG and all the relevant stakeholders agreed to add a 3G evolution to the GSM platform, based on the UMTS research results. This would be based on a new UMTS Terrestrial Radio Access (UTRA) and on an evolution of the GSM core network.

What was the biggest obstacle to overcome?

As in GSM, the selection of the radio access system! After intensive work and a difficult decision-making process, SMG was able to select the basic parameters of UTRA in January 1998 in a Plenary with the all-time high of 250 participants.

What happened on other continents?

We cooperated during this period with partners in Japan, Korea and the USA. These partners came to the same decision on the 3G radio solution. Then they wanted to contribute and to influence the emerging common 3G standard.

How could you do this complex work together?

I realized that it was impossible to develop a consistent set of technical specifications through decentralized work in different organizations. In order to remedy this situation, I initiated a single global working structure for the future, which eventually became 3GPP. 3GPP applied the model of an “ETSI Partnership Project”, as defined in the ETSI reform of 1996.

How successful was 3GPP?

The new organization started successfully at the end of 1998. Nowadays, 3GPP is undoubtedly the worldwide centre of excellence in mobile communications. ETSI took a leading role in 3GPP and gained broad global influence on future mobile communication standardization.