With 5G networks still being deployed around the world and many areas of the globe still using 4G and even 3G networks, it seems a bit early to throw around the term 6G. After all, what use do we have for 6G networks when relatively few people can even use a 5G network?
That said, technology always pushes forward and standards take a long time to mature, so we’ve always been on a path to a 6G world. If anything, the idea of 6G this early in the development of 5G simply indicates how quickly this technology moves forward. We’ve managed to go from 1G to 5G in such a relatively short amount of time, so 6G is just the natural progression towards faster and better wireless connectivity.
Although 6G would make sense as the successor to 5G, it may actually never be called “6G.” If not something like 5G Enhanced or 5G Advanced, we might one day stop with all the numbers and names and just say that we’re connected.
Ultimately, whether it’s with 6G, 7G, or another “G”, we’ll have such incredibly fast speeds that no progress bars or wait times will be required for any normal amount of data, at least at today’s standards. Everything will just be available…instantly, and we won’t need to keep making new terms to describe it.
WHEN WILL 6G COME OUT?
It’s been typical for a new mobile network standard to take the spotlight every decade or so. That means 6G networks might roll out sometime around 2030 (or even a bit earlier in Asia and other areas that were first to introduce 5G), or at least that’s when most telecom companies will be running trials and when we’ll see phone manufacturers tease 6G-capable phones.
However, it’s common for work to start as long as a decade prior to any real implementation of a new network technology, which might be why you’ll start hearing about 6G before you even have your hands on a 5G phone!
Progress won’t start and finish overnight, though. For the same reasons 5G rollouts are slow, 6G networks won’t come out as quickly as we’d like. There are frequency bands to debate over, spectrum licenses to purchase, physical towers to build and coordinate, and rules to deal with.
Despite 6G being less than a decade away, few companies are actually looking into it seriously right now, but 6G experimentation is expected to really kick into high gear as we identify where 5G fails. The next network type will improve on the inevitable weaknesses and limitations of 5G, so it won’t take long for the powers that be to start deciding what to do next.
We’re already destined to have more powerful VR and AR systems with 5G, plus interconnected smart cities and farms, AI at our fingertips, intelligent robotics working in factories, autonomous cars with vehicle- to-vehicle (V2V) communication, and more. 6G will continue to support all of those areas with greater strength, while also providing even more bandwidth that will ultimately expand innovation even further, maybe into fields we haven’t tapped into yet or even considered. Think more immersive experiences and life-like, hologram video calls.
For example, Marcus Weldon of Nokia Bell Labs, says that 6G will be a “sixth sense experience for humans and machines” where biology meets AI.
Japanese phone operator NTT Docomo predicts 6G will enable the “sophistication of cyber-physical fusion”, which that document claims will be required in the 2030s. This will, according to them, make it “possible for cyberspace to support human thought and action in real time through wearable devices and micro-devices mounted on the human body.”
HOW COMPUTERS COULD SOON INTERFACE WITH YOUR BRAIN
Healthcare will no doubt change with 6G as well. Here’s an example, according to 6G researches, of what a morning could be like with 6G in the home:
As an 80-years plusworld citizen, my limbs will sometimes work and sometimes not. But I know that I would still like to manage on my own. Maybe I want to stay a bit longer than usual in bed this morning, and instead of needing to call for my care worker, I can simply think and my 6G-connected exoskeleton will arrive seconds later, communicated via think.
5G intends to make the internet more accessible for lots of people and improve everything from entertainment to healthcare. Whether those areas will have room for improvement beyond 5G—and thus require the use of something better, like 6G—is a resounding yes
Much of what makes 5G so great is its low latency of around 4 ms, but 6G networks might bring this down even further, maybe even to the point that we can safely say there’s virtually zero latency. The start time for movies, TV, and games will be limited only by how long it takes the screen to power on, and video calls can be as crystal clear as standing in front of the other person.
As we’ve seen with prior network technologies, as the capacity of a network increases, so too will its applications. This will cause an amazing effect where new products and services can be built to utilize 6G’s bandwidth and other improved features to their fullest extents.
6G VS 5G: WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?
Speed and latency will be the clearest distinction between 6G and 5G. This is what separates 5G and 4G in terms of performance, so we can also expect 6G to be magnitudes of times speedier than 5G.
If early targets are eventually met, 6G networks will supposedly have 50-100x the capacity of 5G networks. Also, where 5G must support 1 million devices for every square kilometer, 6G is proposed to support 10 million devices.
How fast will 6G be? There’s no telling right now, but even with 5G, we’re seeing speeds of up to 1 Gbps in ideal circumstances. 6G will absolutely top that, but how much is still in question. We might see several hundred gigabit per second speeds, or even ranges in the terabytes. Samsung Electronics tested 6G tech at 50 times faster than 5G.
As for how 6G will be faster than 5G is still up in the air, but we can assume it will involve using ultrahigh frequencies (millimeter waves) of the radio spectrum. 5G’s bandwidth capacity lies in the fact that it uses high radio frequencies; the higher you go up the radio spectrum, the more data you can carry. 6G might eventually approach the upper limits of the radio spectrum and reach extremely high frequency levels of 300 GHz, or even terahertz ranges.
However, just like we’re seeing now with the ultra-fast 5G networks variants being extremely localised due to the inherent limits of millimeter waves, the same problem will be seen in 6G networks. For example, the range of terahertz radiation is around 10 metres, which is much too short for significant 6G coverage.
Perhaps by 2030, we’ll have developed new ways to amplify signals far enough to avoid building thousands of new 6G cell towers. Or maybe we’ll have found better methods for transmitting huge amounts of data, like these researchers who, in 2022, used a new kind of transmitter that created focused beams (vortex millimeter waves) to carry more information; 1 TB of data was moved in a single second.
DO WE REALLY NEED 6G?
5G intends to make the internet more accessible for lots of people and improve everything from entertainment to healthcare. Whether those areas will have room for improvement beyond 5G—and thus require the use of something better, like 6G—is a resounding yes.
However, as fun as it might be to imagine a time when 5G is considered slow and 6G powers the world, if 5G pans out correctly or slowly evolves under that same term, we might never need to come up with a new next-gen network.
The 6G concept could be avoided as long as manufacturers, regulators, and telecom companies keep improving 5G. If all of 5G’s pitfalls could be addressed on a frequent basis, new products could continuously flow into the market to take advantage of the ever-changing and constantly evolving new technology.