This article was authored by John C. Tanner, and was originally posted on telecomasia.net.
As you may have read this week, the ITU announced that it’s officially outlined its vision and roadmap for the overall goals, processes and timeline for 5G development.
However, if you read through the actual statement, the ITU stopped short of specifying just exactly what 5G actually is, or how fast it should be. The only thing they really accomplished in San Diego, apart from establishing goals and a timeline, was they agreed on the official name: IMT-2020. And even that won’t be official until the ITU-R Radiocommunication Assembly, which meets in October, formally adopts it.
From the press release:
The next step is to establish detailed technical performance requirements for the radio systems to support 5G, taking into account the needs of a wide portfolio of future scenarios and use cases, and then to specify the evaluation criteria for assessment of candidate radio interface technologies to join the IMT-2020 family. These new systems, set to become available in 2020, will usher in new paradigms in connectivity in mobile broadband wireless systems to support, for example, extremely high definition video services, real time low latency applications and the expanding realm of the Internet of Things (IoT).
To which the interblogosphere replied: “Yeah yeah, but how fast is it?”
The ITU statement and links to supporting documents make no mention of data speeds or other performance benchmarks. However, the Korea Times has cited South Korea's Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning claiming that IMT-2020 networks must support data speeds up to 20 Gbps, and have a capacity to provide over 100 Mbps data rates to over 1 million IoT devices within a square kilometer.
According to sister publication FierceWireless Europe, which contacted the ITU for clarification, that’s kind of true:
… ITU spokesman Sanjay Acharya noted that it is still early days since the meeting in San Diego: "As of now, I understand the peak data rate of IMT-2020 for enhanced Mobile Broadband is expected to reach 10 Gbps. However, under certain conditions and scenarios, IMT-2020 would support up to 20 Gbps peak data rate. ITU-R Study Group 5 will meet on 21 July to approve the Recommendation, which will then become available during the Radiocommunication Assembly in October," Acharya said in comments emailed to FierceWireless:Europe.
So between 10 Gbps and 20 Gbps, then.
Not that it matters. The biggest misunderstanding about 5G is that it’s a faster version of 4G. Yes, 5G will have higher data throughputs and capacity requirements than vanilla 4G, but there’s far more to 5G than that. 5G is going to be an amalgam of technologies combining everything from legacy 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi to cloud, big data analytics and network virtualization, among others.
With that in mind, here’s hoping the ITU was being vague on purpose. Setting benchmark qualification speeds might have made sense in the days IMT-2000 – which, you may recall, dictated that 3G had to provide minimum downlink speeds of 2 Mbps if you were standing still, and 348 kbps if you were in a moving vehicle.
On the other hand, you may also recall that many of the first 3G networks fell considerably short of those benchmarks but called themselves “3G” anyway.
So 10 Gbps, 20 Gbps – who cares? The true test of 5G won’t be just how fast you can make it go – it will be the network’s ability to connect a few hundred billion “things” as seamlessly and efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.
Perhaps this could be a more useful benchmark: If the user can’t tell what “G” they’re on, you get to call it “5G”.