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6G

Putting LG's 6G announcement (a test across 300 feet) into context

LG Electronics announced that it successfully created a wireless connection in the 155GHz-175GHz band across a distance of around 300 feet. The company said the test shows that it "leads development of 6G communication technology."

"The success of this test demonstrates that we are ever closer to the successful application of terahertz radio communication spectrum in the upcoming 6G era," said Dr. I.P. Park, president and CTO of LG Electronics, in a release "Our successful partnerships with local and global research institutions and organizations to advance the development of 6G capabilities have been very rewarding."

LG said it conducted the test with European research lab Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft using a power amplifier developed by LG, Fraunhofer HHI and the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics (IAF). The 15 dBm transmission traveled in the 155GHz-175GHz band and used adaptive beamforming and high gain antenna switching technology.

Beyond those technical details though, the announcement is noteworthy for a number of reasons.

6G coverage hits a 5G problem

First, it highlights both the promise and drawbacks of a technology that runs in the terahertz spectrum bands. While such bands promise to transmit vast amounts of data, they likely won't support transmissions across large geographic areas. The fact that LG is boasting of a terahertz transmission across just 100 meters is striking given the fact that today's 4G networks often cover hundreds of millions of square kilometers of territory.

LG's announcement also helps to put the early days of 5G into context. One element of 5G technology is the fact that it supports transmissions in millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum bands (which sit below the terahertz bands). Transmissions in those bands can only travel a few thousand feet. As a result, most early 5G phones don't support mmWave spectrum bands. Thus, it appears 6G communications in the terahertz bands could face an even more acute version of early 5G mmWave coverage challenges.

More broadly though, LG's announcement again underscores the growing push among vendors of all shapes and sizes for another generation of wireless technology beyond 5G. That may come as unwelcome news for some network operators that are still trying to recoup their massive investments into 5G. For example, T-Mobile, AT&T and T-Mobile in the US are collectively investing more than $100 billion into the deployment of midband spectrum for 5G, but those services aren't yet available to most Americans.

Further, some operators are still struggling to find ways to reap revenues from 5G. After all, the technology does support faster speeds but has not yet given rise to dramatically new applications and services that are unsupported by 4G networks.

Nonetheless, vendors ranging from Ericsson to Samsung to LG are increasingly beating the 6G drum with promises that the technology will support everything from "hyper-connectivity services" to the "ambient Internet of everything."

6G vendors to watch

For LG, though, the announcement helps to ensure the company remains a player in the global wireless industry even as it completes its high-profile exit from the smartphone industry. LG continues to maintain an extensive electronics business that stretches from refrigerators to TVs – gadgets that could presumably benefit from indoor 6G networks – but the company is no longer a major player on the worldwide wireless stage.

But LG's announcement indicates the company does not intend to be forgotten so easily. "LG Electronics is leading the way in securing 6G core technologies through a number of early-mover initiatives," the company said in its release. LG pointed to its 2019 creation of the LG-KAIST 6G Research Center in partnership with the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, and its leadership of the Applications Working Group for the Next G Alliance for 6G in North America.

LG isn't the only company touting 6G communication tests. For example, Japan's SoftBank has unveiled wide-ranging 6G testing plans, while Samsung recently announced a 6G test with the University of California-Santa Barbara running in the 140GHz band using digital beamforming.

Samsung may be a company to watch in 6G in the coming years, given the breadth of its business and its investments. After all, it's already one of the world's largest suppliers of both 5G phones and 5G networks. Further, it just announced plans to invest a whopping $205 billion over the next three years into areas including chipset manufacturing. That's noteworthy given the global shortage of chipsets and concerns in the US and elsewhere over domestic chipset production.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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