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3GPP, Apple start 6G push

The 3GPP announced it would begin work on the 6G standard. Separately, Apple offered the closest look yet at its 6G intentions. The moves indicate more momentum around 6G technology.

Mike Dano

December 4, 2023

3 Min Read
Photo illustration of a person holding a mobile phone with a 6G logo in the background
(Source: SOPA Images Limited/Alamy Stock Photo)

Momentum around 6G continues to grow, with both the 3GPP and Apple making moves to address the technology.

Specifically, the 3GPP announced Monday that it would officially begin work on the development of a 6G family of specifications.

"3GPP is currently at work on Release 18 and will soon begin development of Release 19 of its specifications, which relate to 5G-Advanced. However, delivery of a new mobile generation is a multi-year process. That is why the work for the 6G specifications is being planned well in advance," the association wrote in a release.

The move comes shortly after the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) adopted a resolution intended to guide the development of a 6G standard.

The 3GPP issues packages, or releases, of new wireless networking technologies roughly once a year. 5G first showed up in 3GPP Release 15 in 2017. Release 18 – dubbed 5G-Advanced – is currently scheduled for full release in early 2024.

Separately, Apple posted a new job offering a clear look at the company's interest in 6G: "As a Cellular Platform Architect, you will drive and coordinate the design and modeling of a 6G reference architecture," according to the posting, as first noted by Bloomberg. "A suitable set of prototype implementations and reference architecture models needs to be developed that allow the evaluation of technology candidates and use cases. In that role you will plan, drive, and actively participate in those modeling and prototyping activities. You will collaborate cross-functionally with research and development teams in proposing, planning, and implementing simulations and experiments to assess 6G technology candidates!"

To be clear, this isn't the first time Apple as a company has acknowledged 6G. For example, Bloomberg noted the company's first 6G job postings first surfaced in 2021. And the year before that, Apple and several other top tech companies joined a North American trade association working on 6G technologies.

But Apple's interest in 6G is also noteworthy considering the company has reportedly run into trouble developing its own 5G modem. Apple currently uses 5G modems from Qualcomm, but is eyeing the development of its own 5G silicon.

To be clear, companies across the world have been discussing 6G for years now. That noise has primarily focused on vendors setting their vision about what the technology might enable. Most in the industry expect 6G standards to be set sometime in the next four or five years; spectrum for 6G is already a topic of debate among regulators. That work would pave the way for the first commercial 6G networks to hit the market in the 2028-2030 timeframe.

It's also worth noting that 5G network operators haven't seen a huge return on their investments so far, and therefore have voiced some trepidation about a major rush into 6G technology.

Finally, there remain concerns about a technological bifurcation between the US and its allies and China and its allies. Whether that tension will affect the development of a global 6G standard remains to be seen.

Such concerns are clearly evident among the executives involved with the 3GPP's 6G effort. "The 3GPP organizational partners will work together to develop 6G which will bring more values to all of us with global standard," said Seiji Nishioka, executive director of the ARIB, in the 3GPP's release. ARIB is one of the 3GPP's organizational partners.

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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