When Will 6G Arrive? Hopefully Never, Says BT's McRae

6G scenario planning
Two very broad scenarios seem possible. In the first, 5G fails to live up to its promise, much as 3G did in the first decade of the millennium. This is clearly a risk, acknowledged one senior telco executive at Huawei's event last week. "The question with 5G is whether it will be like 2G and 4G, or whether it will be like 3G, and we just don't know," said Johan Wibergh, the chief technology officer of UK-based Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD). (See Vodafone CTO: 5G Is Overhyped & It's Mainly About Cost.)

Should 5G disappoint, McRae is unlikely to get his wish. Just as 4G made up for 3G's shortcomings, a 6G standard would probably emerge as a 5G corrective. Judging by the chatter at industry events, telecom players are broadly satisfied with progress on the 5G new radio specifications, which are due to be frozen at the end of this year. But there is some anxiety about a lack of momentum in the 5G core network area. Moreover, there are regular complaints that vendors are not moving quickly enough to address interoperability challenges related to software and virtualization, or to develop the products that telcos really need. Unless this changes soon, 6G could become a blueprint for a more "cloudified" telco, using technologies such as containers and microservices to bolster efficiency.

Want to know more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G content channel here on
Light Reading.

If, on the other hand, 5G turns out to be a roaring success, then 6G may never happen, as McRae suggests. But that is by no means a certainty. And even if there is no 6G, networks will continue to change -- possibly beyond recognition. A true "zero touch" network that can operate with minimal human intervention is the endgame for operators such as Germany's Deutsche Telekom. Few would expect to see that kind of system in a production setting before 5G is well into its stride. (See DT: Brutal Automation Is Only Way to Succeed.)

Making any prediction about the future is a risky business. Even on the radio side, where technology improvements are now almost taken for granted, currently unimaginable services could eventually force operators to overhaul their 5G air interface systems. Ongoing research, such as the work taking place at the University of Bristol, might deliver the 6G radio connections those services need. (See If Anyone Mentions 6G to Me at MWC….)

In the meantime, AI is still in its infancy and now developing at a faster pace than anyone had previously thought possible. Its ultimate impact on networks, and on the people that build and operate them, will be more profound than anything in the current 5G standardization process.

— Iain Morris, News Editor, Light Reading

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KBode 11/27/2017 | 7:25:50 PM
Re: You Have Reached Your Destination And then I remember when the ITU buckled to marketing departments and let them basically declare everything short of cans and string "3G." So yeah, these terms become even more meaningless as  they age.
danielcawrey 11/24/2017 | 5:06:52 PM
Re: You Have Reached Your Destination These things are just buzzwords anyway. Yes, 5G may become the penultmate, but marketers need to give consumers and businesses a reason to upgrade. That's why they come up with these terms. That's why there probably be a 6G even if no one in telcom even wants it. 
Phil_Britt 11/24/2017 | 11:04:30 AM
Re: You Have Reached Your Destination The rush is constant...I wrote about the coming of 3G for many years (we were in 2.5 G for a looong time) before it became a reality.
NeilMcRae 11/23/2017 | 1:27:09 PM
Re: BT SDN and White box hardware.... We have both live in the network today! So not sure why you say that!
NeilMcRae 11/23/2017 | 1:17:31 PM
Evolution Wow this is exciting! To clarify my point about 6G - I think we put the industry under unnecessary pressure when it comes to a new “G” . Why can’t we evolve and enhance technology constantly (which actually we do (see 4GPro for example! Or NB-IoT)). Of course the customer will drive what we do but right now I feel we haven’t helped our customers understand what 5G could mean for them so well and that means it may take a lot longer to reap the benefits.
KBode 11/22/2017 | 7:47:46 PM
Gack... Too fast! I've barely had time to digest the entirely unsunstantiated hype surrounding 4G and 5G yet. 
Registerreporter 11/22/2017 | 3:32:36 AM
BT SDN and White box hardware.... All very insightful but BT need to GET SDN and move to using White box hardware. Mentioning it in press and having it are not the same....
mendyk 11/21/2017 | 5:15:37 PM
Re: BT doesn't determine when 6G arrives In BT's case, maybe delusions of empire die hard. But don't forget that Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom also seem to be bearish on 5G.
TV Monitor 11/21/2017 | 4:36:11 PM
BT doesn't determine when 6G arrives The power to decide the 6G launch date doesn't rest with BT; it rests with the government officials of China or Korea. When they decide that it is time to launch 6G, then the rest of world follows, or be left behind.

5G is commerically launching in 2019 because that's what the Korean government officials have decided as the launch date of 5G, and the same will be true of 6G.
DanJones 11/21/2017 | 4:06:25 PM
4G was all-IP That was a pretty crucial difference in how networks were designed and voice services delivered compared to 3G. Many carriers have taken advantage of that (VoLTE, RTC etc), a few have not.
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