CHICAGO—The chairman of the 3GPP's project coordination group told 4G World attendees on Thursday that the standards body is making progress on LTE Release 12.

Speaking during a panel discussion on the future of LTE, Asok Chatterjee said the standards update is set to include Wi-Fi offload, methods to minimize drive tests, enhanced self-organizing network technology and methods to improve the technology's use for M2M, among other items.

The 3GPP expects to hit a major milestone at the end of 2013, when it plans to freeze the second stage of its process for Release 12. Once a release is “frozen,” no new or modified functions can be added to it, though details like test specifications may still be incomplete. 

Following that, the target for freezing stage three is June 2014, just 21 months after the stage three freezing for Release 11. 

Chatterjee said the organization is mindful of making the LTE standard flexible enough to handle both bandwidth-intensive applications such as streaming video and low-bandwidth uses like M2M. 

"If you want to make LTE Advanced and the future most relevant, it has to be equally applicable to all applications," he said. 

Many M2M products still use 2G networks because of the low cost of modules for the legacy networks and the minimal latency requirements of M2M applications. With operators planning to phase out 2G networks, the sector is grudgingly moving toward 3G and has so far shied away from adopting LTE.

Though the 3GPP's process of developing Release 12 standards is well under way, Chatterjee encouraged interested parties to make their opinions heard.

"Don't think it's too late to bring issues on board," he said. "People are waiting for general discussions to start and there is 21 months (before the freezing of stage three)."

Once Release 12 is codified, it will likely be some time before operators begin to leverage its capabilities. 

U.S. operators are using the Release 8 or Release 9 LTE standards and have only recently begun to discuss Release 10, also known as LTE Advanced. 

Clearwire and T-Mobile have said their respective LTE networks will be LTE-Advanced-ready, though they have stayed largely silent on what parts of the standard they plan to implement. Other operators have stated that their network roadmaps include features of LTE Advanced, namely carrier aggregation. The technology bonds together different spectrum bands into a single, wider channel, improving capacity. 

AT&T has said it will use carrier aggregation to create a fatter pipe for its LTE network by merging some of its 700 MHz spectrum with its licenses in the 1900 MHz and 850 MHz blocks. Sprint also plans to leverage carrier aggregation for LTE, merging its 800 MHz and 1900 MHz bands.