Ericsson, one of the world's largest 5G equipment manufacturers, speculated that early standards for "6G Basic" technology could be released in 2027.
However, the primary standards group that is driving global 5G specifications – the 3GPP – reported no firm 6G plans.
3GPP spokesperson Kevin Flynn told Light Reading that the organization has not coined the term "6G Basic." He said the group's formal work schedule doesn't stretch much beyond 2023. "That graphic [from Ericsson] is nothing to do with the 3GPP time and release planning," Flynn noted of Ericsson's latest 5G and 6G development timeline.
On its website, Ericsson published a graphic that it said was "the 3GPP's 5G evolution time plan."
Ericsson included the timeline in an article by the company on 3GPP work scheduled for the next few years.
Vendors jockey around 6G
For its part, Ericsson last year began discussing its view of what 6G might look like. And earlier this year, Ericsson's Jan Söderström took a leadership position in the Next G Alliance, a trade group formed specifically to manage North America's progress toward 6G. Ericsson has suggested that 6G might be commercially available in the 2030 timeframe.
But the 3GPP is the global standards-setting organization where 6G will likely shift from concept to reality. The association comprises network operators, vendors and others across the worldwide wireless industry, and has been the driving force behind specifications for 2G, 3G, 4G and – most recently – 5G. The association's standards – developed through consensus – are important because they ensure that gadgets and equipment built for one network can also work in other networks developed under the same specifications. For consumers, that means phones that can roam from AT&T's network to T-Mobile's network to Vodafone's network, for example.
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 is currently scheduled for initial approvals at the end of this year. The 3GPP's Flynn said "there hasn't been any discussion on Release 19 at all."
Ericsson speculated that "6G Basic" might be included in the 3GPP's Release 21.
Importantly, as Light Reading reported earlier this year, the 3GPP decided to use the "5G-Advanced" moniker as its new, official name for technologies in Release 18 and beyond.
FCC chief calls for '6G Solarium'
Ericsson, of course, is not the only company eyeing technologies beyond 5G and 5G-Advanced. Nokia, Samsung, Huawei and others have provided their own takes on what 6G might look like in the coming years. So far, much of the 6G discussion has focused on faster speeds, terahertz spectrum bands and technologies like virtual reality.
But the vendor noise around the issue has been enough to spark interest among regulators, too. For example, the acting chairwoman of the FCC – the commercial spectrum-management agency of the US government – recently waded into the topic.
"Let's acknowledge here and now that it is time to start thinking seriously about how we can better position ourselves for success with 6G. After all, in the age of ever-faster technical development, maintaining our leadership in high-priority emerging technology requires careful planning and execution," Jessica Rosenworcel said in a recent speech this week. "If you think I'm too early on this one, think again. Much like in the early days of 5G, the scrum for 6G is already intensifying."
Specifically, Rosenworcel proposed a 6G Solarium – similar to the US government's 2019 "Project Solarium" that focused on cybersecurity – to prioritize spectrum objectives around 6G.
"In other words, we need a 6G Solarium that brings together government, business, the nonprofit sector, and the rest of civil society and the public to chart a new course," she said. "That way, we can pursue policymaking that works and ensure our continued wireless leadership far into the future."
As part of the effort, Rosenworcel said the FCC's newly resurrected Technological Advisory Council will look "beyond 5G and conceptualizing 6G – to help set the stage for our leadership."
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