Vendors and market watchers are already promoting 6G. What will the wireless technology actually do if and when it arrives in 2030?
The marketing of 6G wireless got a boost this month during the Brooklyn 6G Summit. The event grew out of previous Brooklyn 5G Summits. The 6G jamboree launched the hype cycle for the new technology earlier than ever before, even before underlying 6G infrastructure is in place.
Sixth-generation “research is in full swing, even though 6G commercial deployment is expected [to be] a decade out,” said Peter Vetter, president of Bell Labs Core Research at Nokia, opening the media roundtable that started this year’s Brooklyn 6G Summit. Research is needed to determine the “future technology” that 6G will be based on and what “future applications” it will utilize, Vetter stated.
As best we know right now, 6G network will arrive around the turn of the next decade. Like 3G, 4G, and 5G before it, the next generation of cellular will change over in 2030 or thereabouts.
Participants in the media roundtable expect the earliest 6G prototypes to begin arriving in 2027 or 2028. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), the organization that establishes the platform for cellular releases, is expected to herald the start of the sixth generation with completion of Release 21 in 2028.
“You’ve got to get the standards in place, and then the chips designed,” noted Hilary Mine, vice president of strategy and technology at Nokia CX.
Mine expects early deployments starting around 2028 in South Korea, although she notes that parts of Europe and North America are also vying to be the first to deploy the wireless technology.
Nearly all industry executives at the 6G summit agreed that 2030 is a realistic deadline for commercial deployments. Nearly a decade out, that prediction might prove a trifle optimistic.
Remember, we’re still in the grip of a global pandemic. Covid-19 has already delayed 3GPP 5G meetings, wrecking parts of the 5G deployment rollout. The next 5G update, Release 17, was originally expected to be “frozen” in September but is now expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2022.
It would only take a few new SARS-CoV-2 variants to further disrupt the 5G schedule and scuttle the 6G timeline.
NYU Wireless founder Ted Rappaport expects the cellular infrastructure upgrade to provide 5G densification that will deliver long-term benefits for 6G. “Once you do that densification around the world for 5G, it’s already built-in for 6G and beyond,” Rappaport said.
He added that densification currently taking place for millimeter-wave and mid-band 5G will speed the evolution of 6G infrastructure. “The adaptive antenna technologies at these higher frequencies enable you to overcome the signal-to-noise ratio with more gain. It counteracts, in fact, it beats the loss that people perceive going to higher frequencies,” he said.
Rappaport is among the biggest boosters of 5G millimeter-wave technology. So, it’s hardly surprising he is keen on high-frequency telecommunications for 6G as well.
The repurposing of 3G and 4G spectrum is likely to emerge as an issue within the current 2030 deployment timeline for 6G. That’s because existing low-band spectrum is a finite resource that could be heavily exploited by a profusion of new IoT devices.
Nokia’s Peter Veeter said low-band spectrum would be needed for 6G sensor applications and more, adding that 5G non-terrestrial networks will also be important for 6G.
NYU Wireless researchers predict 6G will at least use frequencies above 100 GHz, into the sub-terahertz range. Rappaport expects data speeds of tens to hundreds of gigabits, with a latency of less than a millisecond. Notably, this enables sensing applications as well as high data rates.
“The world doesn’t quite understand this yet, but they will,” Rappaport predicted.
Sensing and localization via 6G, made possible by the tiny beams of upper mmWave and terahertz radio, represents a promising application. The higher beams will allow 6G phones or other devices not connected to networks to sense radars, for example, while providing plain-old voice communication.
6G radio: THz sensing
For more accurate location, this functionality could be used in industrial applications, autonomous driving, microscopic surgery and much more. Telesurgery has, in fact, existed since 2001, to overcome distance and a lack of surgeons in remote and underserved regions.
Such systems aren’t cheap, though. Joe Namath isn’t likely to be pitching telesurgery anytime soon in his Medicare ads. [International readers: Just substitute quarterback Namathfor your favorite sports hero touting privatized medical plans. Oh wait, that’s right, most countries don’t sell medical care via cable TV advertising, and many even offer public healthcare!]
A crucial step on the ramp to 6G will be the release of the 5G-Advanced specification, which will be frozen by the 3GPP in Release 18 at the end of 2023. It should start to arrive in commercial networks by 2025.
Ramped-up 5G will naturally offer higher data speeds and lower latency. Mobile broadband will also be upgraded to deal with emerging applications like augmented and virtual reality. In fact, vendors are already pitching up a new acronym for AR/VR: Extended Reality, or XR.
Observers predict that XR glasses could even replace (or at least supplement) smartphones. We’ll see.
RedCap, or reduced capability, uses for wearable devices and other IoT components will also be extended in Release 18. While the initial RedCap features are being laid out in Release 17, Release 18 adds crucial IoT features like device positioning to enable asset tracking. That’s part of the slow roll to make 5G suitable for at least some IoT applications.
Remember, this is all due to start to arrive in 2025, while 6G will supposedly make its commercial debut in 2030. Prior to any debut, expect to see network launches that purport to be 6G but are not. Faux 6G launches, if you will.
This article was originally published on EE Times.
Dan Jones is a veteran reporter who has covered many segments of the communications market.