What is 6G? It could make 5G look like 2G, but it’s not even close to reality

6G is already generating headlines in the world of technology, but what is 6G, and when will you be able to get it? Right now, 5G is (just about) here. You can buy a 5G smartphone, and enjoy all the benefits of a 5G data connection today. However, technology never stops, and there is talk about the next step in the world of mobile connectivity — 6G.

There’s a growing amount of 6G information out there, and much of it is built around just a few reports and studies. Let’s clear some things up about 6G, and find out what the state of this future tech really is.

Is 6G real?

Yes. And no. Yes, 6G (or whatever it’s eventually called) will eventually replace 5G, but currently 6G is not a functioning technology, and is instead in the early research phase. Mobile telecoms companies are much too focused on 5G to deal with 6G in any significant way at the moment, and for the foreseeable future, too.

When is 6G coming?

“It’s a little too early to talk about 6G.”

Not our words, but the words of Ericsson’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Erik Ekudden during MWVC 2019 Shanghai in July 2019. We’ll say it again, it’s all about 5G at the moment. However, in his interview with Mobile World Live Ekudden did add that it’s never too early to start researching the next evolution of the mobile industry.

But if the research is only just starting, when will 6G launch? Ekudden continued that it would be about a decade before 6G comes along, a prediction which fits in with both Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, who told CNBC in September 2019 that 6G was still in an early phase and at least ten years away, and Japan’s NTTDoCoMo. In NTTDoCoMo’s own white paper on 6G, published in January 2020, NTTDoCoMo illustrated how mobile connection technology has evolved on a relatively steady basis, with 3G coming in the early 2000s, 5G in 2010, and 5G in 2020. It posits that it’s reasonable to expect 6G in 2030.

How fast will 6G be?

We don’t know how fast 6G will be yet. The final standards that will define what a 6G connection is will probably be down to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The ITU nailed down the standards for 5G (which it refers to as IMT-2020) recently, but began working on the project in 2012.

That hasn’t stopped experts guessing how fast 6G will be. One of the most often quoted is from Dr Mahyar Shirvanimoghaddam from the University of Sydney, who claims 6G could deliver mind boggling speeds of 1TB per second, or 8,000 gigabits per second. Forget one movie downloading in a few seconds from Netflix with 5G, with 6G speeds like that, in just one second you could download 142 hours of Netflix movies.

As for the ITU, it hasn’t published much on 6G yet. In May 2019 it talked about IMT-2030, which it describes as a hybrid network and an upgrade to 5G, rather than a new network entirely, which we expect 6G to be.

What will 6G mean to you?

It’ll be like 5G, but more so. Even higher speeds, even lower latency, and masses of bandwidth. Researchers and scientists are talking about 6G going beyond a “wired” network, with devices acting as antennas using a decentralized network not under the control of a single network operator. If everything connects together using 5G, 6G will set these connected devices free, as higher data speeds and lower latency make instant device-to-device connection possible.

While the technology we expect to emerge from 5G — from autonomous cars and drones to smart cities — will be enhanced further with 6G, it may also bring about sci-fi applications like the integration of our brains with computers, and greatly improved touch control systems. NTT DoCoMo talks about 6G making it, “possible for cyberspace to support human thought and action in real time through wearable devices and micro-devices mounted on the human body.”

The report points toward the realm of science fiction becoming science fact, saying speeds in excess of 100Gbps could make possible sensory interfaces that feel and look just like real life, potentially through smart glasses or contact lenses. It goes on to talk about prioritizing low power consumption for over-the-air charging, and coverage that could be extended across the sea and even out into space.

Who is working on 6G?

Just like 5G, most major companies and governments will work on 6G projects, and several are already talking about plans. Japan has most recently launched its 6G project, following a press conference in January 2020 where it announced an intention to lead standardization efforts and study challenges. The NTTDoCoMo report mentioned above paints the most exciting vision of what 6G could bring yet.

In November 2019 China announced the formation of a research team dedicated to 6G, while in Finland, the 6G Flagship research program is backed by Nokia, the University of Oulu, and other telecoms and business bodies. A 6G Summit business event took place in Finland in 2019, and will do so again in March 2020, where standards and other 6G topics will be discussed.

It doesn’t stop there. Both Samsung and LG have 6G research centers in South Korea, and SK Telecom, Nokia, and Ericsson are collaborating on a 6G research project. In its Canadian research center, Huawei is also said to have started its 6G research, following company founder Ren Zhengfei’s interview with CNBC in 2019, where he said, “We have parallel work being done on 5G and 6G, so we started out 6G a long time ago.”

In the U.S., President Donald Trump tweeted in February 2019 he wanted, “5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible.”

For now, 5G is just beginning to get interesting, and with at least ten years to go before the first hint of a 6G network comes along, let’s enjoy some of the exciting tech 5G will bring us before then. Don’t worry, we’ll be keeping up with 6G, too, to make sure we’re fully prepared for 2030 and beyond.

Editors' Recommendations