No, the ITU has not defined 5G as a 20Gbps technology

Erdogan Syndrome award* to… the blogosphere

You may have read that the ITU has decided that for a network to be considered 5G – which means it will conform to IMT2020 recommendations – it must offer peak speeds of 20Gbps.

Headlines such as these (below) all give the impression that the ITU has just decided what 5G will offer in terms of peak speeds:

The only issue with this is that the ITU has not decided, defined nor said any such thing. The ITU is only going to collate its vision for 5G  this year. It will be another year to 18 months before it delivers technical requirements to fulfil the vision, two years before it delivers proposals for IMT2020.

Nowhere in any ITU documentation will you find an official position that 5G = 20Gbps.

So how has this new 5G “fact” come into being? Well, nearly all of these reports refer back to an original article in the Korea Times, which leant heavily on a briefing from South Korea’s Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning. South Korea had a team at the ITU’s recent meeting in San Deigo. After that meeting an unnamed official told Korea Times that the ITU has decided to define 5G as a network which is capable of transmitting data at up to 20 gigabits-per-second.

Here’s the quote: “The vision for the 5G network and its global standardisation schedule has been agreed based on our suggestion. This has shown that Korea is leading the world’s mobile communication technology and related policies.”

So, you can probably see what’s going on here. A spokesperson is claiming a national victory to its home press.

A claim made for reasons of national political prestige has hardened, by repetition, into fact

But then in the next sentence we see that this is in fact perhaps not a done deal: “We will beef up international cooperation to have the agreement approved without any problems,” says the spokesperson. So there’s still a bit to play for, then.

Yet after this initial briefing and article, all of the tech sites and blogs (and there are many more than we have listed) to have covered this have simply picked up the Korean spin and run with it. A claim made for reasons of national political prestige has hardened, by repetition, into fact.

There may of course be truth in what the Korean government is saying. After all, the ITU press release following its San Diego meeting was almost comically sparse in detail, considering the meeting lasted over a week.

So Inside5G did what not a single one of these blogs seems to have done and asked the ITU if it has yet recommended a peak speed for IMT2020of 20Gbps? No, it said, it has not.

Here is the situation as outlined by an ITU spokesperson, to Inside5G:

“As of now, the peak data rate of IMT-2020 for enhanced Mobile Broadband is expected to reach 10 Gbit/s. However, under certain conditions and scenarios, IMT-2020 would support up to 20 Gbit/s 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.”

From that we can see that it’s still possible that when the ITU defines its IMT2020 vision later this year, we will see that 20Gbps peak speed in there, “under certain conditions and scenarios”. That’s not a recommendation that to be 5G, you must have 20Gbps, and 5G does not yet equal 20Gbps in IMT2020.


Erdoğan Syndrome is an occasional column tracking those who seem a little… confused by 5G. Named in honour of  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after his questionable 5G plans.