From 5G to 6G: What could it look like?

As demand for connectivity increases, it's time to begin defining the 6G standard, and understanding the benefits and challenges that 6G will present.

February 26, 2021

5 Min Read
From 5G to 6G: What could it look like?

Although 5G networks are just now coming into reality, technologists are already working on the next big thing: the 6G future. If we're learning anything from 5G implementations, it's that the demand for connectivity is increasing at an exponential rate as wireless communication is becoming more and more essential to our daily lives. From self-driving cars to Internet-connected coffee machines, from smart sensors that monitor medical conditions to factories full of robots, the power of wireless is pushing our world ever forward.

As demand for connectivity increases, it's time to begin defining the 6G standard, and understanding the benefits and challenges that 6G will present.

Evolution of a hyper-connected world

As automation surges and the uses of virtual reality expand, the need for faster, more secure communication has grown.

Hyperconnectivity, the trend toward online work and communication, has accelerated due to the global pandemic. Entire companies and even industries have moved to online working. After the workday is over, people switch from video calls to online gaming. From virtual reality games to massively multiplayer immersive experiences, participation in online games has skyrocketed.

Colleagues no longer come together at an office building to work or at a sports stadium to watch a game. They go online, in millions of homes, to meet colleagues, drive virtual race cars, or cheer on their favorite rock stars at a virtual concert.

Robotic surgery, tel-a-doc services and online meetings are examples of technologies that are being implemented in new and ever more powerful ways. But each new implementation also strains available processing power and existing communication channels.

The industry is seeing the demand for speed and power accelerating as more 5G implementations come online. Now is the time to start defining the 6G standard that will meet the evolving needs of our hyper-connected world.

6G: Faster than fast

The 6G revolution will focus on how to connect and control the billions of machines – macro to micro to nano – in our digital future. The 6G standard will truly be a next-generation communications standard.

Two key drivers for building 6G are increased speed and lower latency. 5G allows us to download a movie in under a minute. But 6G brings the possibility to download more than 140 hours of movies in that same minute. Along with lightning-fast speed will come extreme reliability. No more lost connections, timeouts, or pixellated video calls. Faster, more reliable connectivity will provide a seamless and powerful online user experience.

In the business world, the power of 6G will transform the way we work and meet. Think of having high-fidelity mobile holograms at the touch of a button, allowing us to converse with coworkers as if we were both sitting at the same table. Meetings can go truly virtual, reducing the need for long-haul flights and massive in-person conferences. Medicine can use 6G to provide faster emergency response to wider coverage areas, diagnosing and prescribing treatment across continents. Doctors can train and supervise assistants in local communities across the country, providing faster and better medical treatment. With the speed of 6G, online games and competitions can also be transformed into truly immersive Extended Reality (XR), complete with smart wearables, headsets and even implants.

6G: A massive leap forward

6G will be a massive leap forward in performance, even compared to the new 5G networks now being rolled out. 6G will operate on terahertz (THz) bands from 100GHz to 10THz, delivering a peak data rate of 1000 gigabits/second with air latency lower than 100 microseconds. 6G will be 50 times faster than 5G, 100 times more reliable, offer wider coverage and support ten times more devices per square kilometer.

With that kind of speed and power, it's hard to say exactly what the 6G architecture will look like. Early discussions predict advanced levels of automation and connectivity. 6G may also include optimizations that improve network design and overcome the current limitations of mobile devices. Advanced edge computing and powerful AI systems will leverage 6G's lightning fast speed to coordinate complex systems like road traffic and stock markets.

Navigating 6G hurdles

There are, however, challenges to overcome in designing the 6G standard and implementations, including high-spectrum path loss, high computation requirements, and massive amounts of real-time information. Meeting these challenges will require collaboration, openness, and cloud technology across a wide range of industries.

As billions of machines are connected to each other, AI will play an ever larger and more important role in managing many aspects of 6G systems and infrastructure. Building these AI systems will be challenging but the payoffs will be increased performance, lowered costs and a wider range of useful services.

When will 6G arrive?

Today, 6G is in the early research phase. While 5G is receiving most of the attention right now, technologists and scientists are already studying what the 6G standard might encompass.

Past rollouts of 3G (2000), 4G (2010) and 5G (2020) happened every ten years or so. Some in the industry look to 2028 as the timetable for completing the definition of the 6G standard, with earliest commercial efforts following to test the standard and flesh out implementation details. Larger commercial deployments would start sometime after that, perhaps in 2030.

6G brings exciting possibilities in terms of speed and reliability. As we continue to live and work virtually, technology will continue to improve to support this hyper-connected world. While 6G may be a decade away, companies are already envisioning the best uses for 6G as we usher in a new era of technology.

— Nermin Mohamed, Head of Telecommunications Solutions, Wind River

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