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.
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