What Is 6G, and How Fast Will It Be?

  • 6G is the sixth-generation wireless technology for digital cellular networks.
  • 6G will utilize the upper limits of the radio spectrum and support 1 Tbps (terabytes per second) speeds. 
  • It will bring down the latency of communication to one microsecond — 1,000 times faster than 5G latencies.

The implementation of 5G services has started a wave of competition across the globe, but more importantly, it has triggered a race to develop 6G, the next step in the world of mobile connectivity.

It seems too early to talk about 6G, but several corporations and universities have already started working on this idea. This shows how fast technology moves forward: we have managed to proceed from 1G to 5G in just four decades, so 6G is another natural progression towards enhanced digital telecommunications.

What Is 6G?

6G is the sixth-generation wireless technology for digital cellular networks. Being a successor to 5G networks, it will move beyond personalized communication towards the complete realization of the Internet of Things paradigm, connecting not just people but also autonomous vehicles, robotic agents, and computing resources.

6G networks will use higher frequencies than 5G networks, and thus offer much higher capacity and lower latency. One of the main objectives of the 6G Internet will be to bring down the latency of communication to one microsecond — 1,000 times faster than 5G latencies.

At this moment, 6G (or whatever it is eventually called) is not a functioning technology; in fact, it is far from reality. Since it is in its infancy, it is too early to say what exactly 6G could be or what kind of technologies it would enhance.

How Fast Will 6G Be?

According to the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, 6G can support 1 Tbps (terabytes per second) speeds, approximately 8,000 times higher than the existing 5G speeds.

In addition to providing much higher throughput, 6G’s higher frequencies will enable significantly faster sampling rates. This will further enhance the performance of 5G applications and unlock the potential of increasingly data-hungry applications across the realms of wireless imaging and sensing.

6G networks are also expected to provide extreme coverage extension (including coverage undersea, in high altitude, and in space) while consuming low power. However, this will require a complete redesign of the core network.

When To Expect It?

Every decade or so, a new mobile network standard takes the spotlight. This means 6G might be introduced in the early 2030s, or at least that’s when most smartphone manufacturers will tease 6G-capable mobiles, and we will see telecom companies running 6G trials.

The Chinese ministry is determined to lay out the groundwork for building 6G technology. According to the vice minister of the science ministry, 6G should be considered a priority for the development of the nation. The ministry will soon create a roadmap to develop 6G and explore its possible applications.

Japan’s NTT DoCoMo published a white paper in which they explained use cases and technological evolution of 6G, as well as the worldview in the 2030s when 6G will be deployed. The paper also sheds light on how mobile network technology has evolved in the past decades, with 3G coming in the early 2000s, 4G in 2010, and 5G in 2020.

Read: 10 Organizations That Controls The Internet

6G Benefits

The clearest distinction between 5G and 6G will be speed and latency. The same parameters separate 4G and 5G in terms of performance, so we can expect that future 6G services will meet the stringent network demands of the 2030s.

Evolution of cellular networks, with representative applications for each generation

6G wireless sensing solutions might utilize different frequencies to determine absorption and configure frequencies accordingly. While 5G technology uses high radio frequencies ranging from 24 GHz to 72 GHz, 6G will use the upper limits of the radio spectrum (300 GHz) and might even approach terahertz ranges. The higher the radio spectrum, the more data it can carry.

6G will have major impacts in various fields, such as:

Augmented/Virtual Reality: Just like video applications saturated 4G networks, the proliferation of AR and VR apps will deplete the 5G spectrum and require networks with capacity over 1 Tbps, instead of just 20 Gbps target defined for 5G. The low (micro-level) latency of 6G will enable real-time user interaction in immersive surroundings.

Holographic Telepresence: A 3D holographic display with full parallax, colors, and 30 fps would require a data rate of over 4 Tbps and a latency of sub-ms. 6G will be able to fulfill such requirements: the networks will have enough bandwidth to transfer all the five human senses in digital form to provide an immersive remote experience.

According to Marcus Weldon, president of Nokia Bell Labs, 6G will be a sixth sense experience for humans and machines where biology meets artificial intelligence.

eHealth: Lack of real-time tactile feedback and high cost are two major limitations of eHealth services. 6G is expected to eliminate these barriers through remote surgery and improved healthcare workflow optimizations. The ultralow latency, high reliability, and refined intelligence of 6G technology will provide ten times gain in spectral efficiency.

Pervasive Connectivity: The number of mobile devices is expected to cross 125 billion by 2030. 6G will connect all these devices as well as autonomous vehicles and sensors. However, it must be 10-100 times more energy-efficient than 5G networks to enable inexpensive, scalable deployments, with better coverage and low environmental impact.

Robotics and Unmanned Mobility: Connecting large autonomous transportation systems require low latency and unprecedented levels of reliability to guarantee passenger safety, even in extremely high mobility scenarios (up to 600 miles/h). Also, the growing number of sensors on vehicles and drones will require more data. 6G technology might pave the way for these connected systems through advances in software, hardware, and new connectivity solutions.

Reference: arXiv:1903.12216

Who Is Working On 6G?

6G technology is a decade away, but few countries and telecom companies have already started working on it.

The University of Oulu in Finland was the first one to focus on 6G research. They created a 6G Flagship program to explore various challenging research areas such as reliable unlimited wireless connectivity, distributed computing and intelligence, and materials to be utilized in future networks.

In 2019, the Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules to speed up the deployment of new services in the spectrum above 95 GHz.

The Commission’s First Report and Order, titled “Spectrum Horizon” develops a new segment of experimental license for use in the frequencies ranging from 95 GHz to 3 THz. This will enable entrepreneurs and innovators to readily access this spectrum and develop/test new communications technologies.

Researchers at Virginia Tech and companies like LG and Samsung have begun working on 6G technology. Moreover, Japan is reportedly planning a comprehensive strategy to launch 6G networks by 2030.

Do We Need 6G?

Although 5G is designed to improve everything from healthcare to entertainment and make the Internet more accessible, 6G would make sense if those areas will have room for improvement beyond 5G.

Maybe by 2030, we will have developed better techniques for transmitting large volumes of data or amply signals strong enough that there is no need to set up 6G cell towers.

Read: How Many Satellites Would Require To Build Quantum Internet?

Eventually, whether it is 5G, 6G, or another ‘G’, we will have such incredible speeds and ultralow latencies that no wait times or progress bars will be required to access any fair amount of data, at least as per today’s standards. Whatever we need will be there instantly, and we won’t have to come up with new terms to describe it.

Written by
Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is a professional science and technology journalist and a big fan of AI, machines, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from Indraprastha University. To find out about his latest projects, feel free to directly email him at [email protected] 

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