It’s already making headlines in the world of technology, but what exactly is 6G, and when will it be available? Right now, 5G is (almost) here. Today, you can purchase a 5G smartphone and enjoy all of the benefits of a 5G data connection. However, technology never stops evolving, and the next step in the world of mobile connectivity is already being discussed.
There is an increasing amount of 6G information available, and much of it is based on a few reports and studies. Let’s clear up some misconceptions about 6G and discover the true state of this futuristic technology.
Is 6G a real thing?
Both yes and no. Yes, 6G (or whatever it’s eventually called) will eventually replace 5G, but it’s not yet a working technology and is still in the research phase. Mobile telecom companies are far too focused on 5G to deal with 6G in any meaningful way, though early research projects have begun thanks to funding from governments looking for a competitive advantage.
When is 6G coming?
“It’s a little early to be talking about 6G.”
Not our words, but those of Ericsson’s chief technology officer (CTO) Erik Ekudden, who spoke at the MWVC 2019 Shanghai conference in July 2019. In December 2020, Verizon CTO Kyle Malady responded, “I really don’t know what the hell 6G is.” We’ll say it again: it’s all about 5G right now.
But, if research is still in its early stages, when will 6G be available? Ekudden estimates that 6G will arrive in about a decade, which is consistent with Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, who told CNBC in September 2019 that 6G was at least ten years away. According to ABI Research’s 2021 report, early commercial deployment will occur in 2028 and 2029, with more widespread rollouts following in the following years.
How fast will 6G be?
We don’t know how fast 6G will be yet, but it’s expected to be 100 times faster than 5G. The International Telecommunication Union will most likely be in charge of defining what a 6G connection is (ITU). After more than eight years of work, the ITU recently nailed down the standards for 5G (which it refers to as IMT-2020) and is expected to begin a similar process for 6G soon.
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That hasn’t stopped experts from speculating on how fast 6G will be. Dr. Mahyar Shirvanimoghaddam of the University of Sydney is one of the most frequently quoted, claiming that 6G could deliver mind-boggling speeds of 1TB per second, or 8,000 gigabits per second. Forget about downloading one movie from Netflix in a few seconds with 5G; with 6G speeds like that, you could download 142 hours of Netflix movies in just one second.
The ITU, for its part, hasn’t said much about 6G yet. In May 2019, it discussed IMT-2030, which it describes as a hybrid network and an upgrade to 5G — rather than an entirely new network, as we expect 6G to be.
What will 6G mean to you?
It will be more powerful than 5G. Even faster speeds, even lower latency, and a massive amount of bandwidth. Researchers and scientists are discussing how 6G will go beyond a “wired” network, with devices acting as antennas on a decentralized network not controlled by a single network operator. If everything connects via 5G, 6G will liberate these connected devices by enabling instant device-to-device connectivity due to higher data speeds and lower latency.
While the technology we expect to emerge from 5G — from self-driving cars and drones to smart cities — will be improved even more with 6G, it may also bring about sci-fi applications such as the integration of our brains with computers and vastly improved touch control systems. According to NTT DoCoMo, 6G will enable “cyberspace to support human thought and action in real time through wearable devices and micro-devices mounted on the human body.” For similar reasons, others have dubbed it “teleportation of the senses.”
According to the report, speeds in excess of 100Gbps could enable sensory interfaces that feel and look exactly like real life, potentially through smart glasses or contact lenses. It goes on to discuss the importance of low power consumption for over-the-air charging, as well as coverage that could be extended across the sea and even into space.
What will 6G mean to you?
Throughout 2020 and early 2021, 6G research initiatives grew in popularity as governments around the world began investigating possibilities, eager to embrace new technology ahead of competitors. This can be broken down into several recent key investments.
China has already launched a 6G experimental satellite into orbit, according to the country’s official news agency. According to reports, the satellite will be one of 13 new satellites launched by China on the Long March-6 rocket in November 2020. According to the China Global Television Network, the satellite weighed 70 kilograms and was designed to aid in data transmission tests over long distances along the terahertz spectrum. The satellite could be used to track crop yields, forest fires, and other environmental data. Recently, the CNIPA (China National Intellectual Property Administration) announced that it owns 35% of the approximately 38,000 patents related to 6
In Europe, the 6G Flagship project is combining research on 6G technologies, which is currently centred at Finland’s University of Oulu.
Japan is investing $482 million to help 6G become widely available in the coming years. This funding will also be used to construct a facility where researchers can work on wireless projects. By 2025, the country’s overall goal is to highlight the most innovative mobile technologies.
Vodafone Germany announced in 2021 that it would open a 6G research facility in Dresden.
It’s no surprise that Samsung is working on 6G in South Korea, and sees the technology as especially promising for advanced technology like holograms. They are yet another organization that believes the first 6G rollout could occur as early as 2028.
In Russia, the NIIR and Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology released a 2021 forecast predicting that 6G networks could be available as early as 2035.
In the United States, the 6G effort is more private than public, though the federal government did announce a partnership with South Korea on 6G research in 2021. Some American mobile companies are moving forward with their own 6G development. Notably, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile are leading an industry initiative called the Next G Alliance with ATIS to help organize and advance 6G research across North America. The Next G Alliance launched a technical work program in May 2021 to coordinate a series of new workgroups with the specific goal of developing 6G technology. If the patent numbers are correct, the United States is currently second only to China in terms of 6G patents, accounting for approximately 18% of all 6G patents.
For the time being, 5G is just getting interesting, and with at least ten years until the first hints of a 6G network appear, let us enjoy some of the exciting technology that 5G will bring us before then. With 6G on the horizon in 2030 or later, we’ll have more information as technology advances.