IMT-2020 is the future of mobile - but you can keep calling it 5G

The ITU has chosen a formal name for the next generation, coming in 2020

Panelists discussing a European vision statement on 5G mobile technology posed for a group photo on Tuesday at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Panelists discussing a European vision statement on 5G mobile technology posed for a group photo on Tuesday at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

There's finally something real to 5G: a name.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has decided to call the next-generation cellular system IMT-2020. That name may have a hard time catching up with "5G," a tag that's been applied to just about every future mobile technology in the works: Googling "5G mobile" brings up 12.9 million results. But it's a clear sign of progress toward the concrete. Where there's a bureaucratic-sounding numeric acronym, can a formal standard be far behind?

The ITU now has an answer to that question, too. It's set a timeline that calls for the standard to be finished in 2020. Hence the name, which follows in the footsteps of IMT-2000 (3G) and IMT-Advanced (4G).

The name and timeline came out of a recent meeting in San Diego of the ITU-R Working Party 5D, the group within the ITU charged with working out the new standard. Pretty much everything else about 5G is still open to speculation, of which there is no shortage.

Some reports on Monday said the group had also defined 5G as a network that could deliver 20G bps (bits per second), an ambitious goal that may in fact become part of the official effort. But it's not set in stone yet.

"The next step is to establish 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," the ITU said in a press release.

And though the 5G standard may call for blazingly fast speeds for uploading and downloading bits, other features may be even more important. Some in the mobile industry are calling for 5G to include shorter network delays for things like driverless cars and low power consumption for Internet of Things devices like sensors. To meet all these needs, the standard may define ways to use higher frequencies and to combine cellular with Wi-Fi networks.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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