Exclusives : Competition for 6G leadership grows as Korea & Japan join the U.S. and China in the race

Competition for 6G leadership grows as Korea & Japan join the U.S. and China in the race

smartphone and 6G

Leadership may be a tricky word to define, especially when it applies to a market race that experts and governments expect to last for roughly a decade like it is the case with 6G. After all, a country can have the edge in research and development (R&D), in fostering innovation, or in standardisation.

So, what does it mean to be a leader?

According to Alain Mourad, director engineer, R&D at InterDigital, it is much more about a marathon than a sprint. To be considered a leader, you must be a constant presence at the front row of all the phases surrounding 6G evolution.

“In my opinion, leadership should be continuous,” he said. “You don’t just claim ‘I’m a leader now in technology generation,’ sit down and do nothing. You would lose the leadership with this secured behaviour.”

As of now, some countries have laid out plans and visions on how to develop technologies and studies that will get us to 6G in the future. But there are lessons to be taken from the past and the present.

Even well-established players, like the United States – a nation that has always been at the forefront of innovation – can be overtaken in the race for 5G implementation. And that is happening right now.

“The 5G marketplace is quickly maturing and the U.S. has lost some time in its attention to a range of regulatory and legislative directives that, at times, have constrained activities,” assesses Nicol Turner Lee, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation, in a research article published in April.

“Without a thoughtful approach to at least [spectrum management and network supply chain], the U.S. will likely lag in 5G deployments compared to China, which cannot solely be attributed to the latter’s authoritarian leadership,” the expert foresaw.

It is not only about governments

When it comes to building new generations of networks, like 6G, governments play a crucial role in providing a framework for companies to research and deploy technology. Still, there are other ingredients to this recipe.

Private companies – in China’s case, state-backed enterprises – are also fundamental partners in the entire process.
“There are big global companies, like Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung, that carry work in many countries. These companies are also in the race in terms of leadership, research, and technology generation,” Mourad pointed out.

This is especially true when China enters the conversation. The biggest mobile internet carriers and manufacturers in the country – namely Huawei, ZTE, China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom – contribute to several collaborative workgroups across the world, including in the United States.

So, it should not come as a surprise that China grew into one of the leaders in each phase of the 5G roadmap. The country announced initial research on 6G in November 2019, although few details have been released by the Ministry of Science and Technology so far.

“You can say that the 5G is the first internet generation in which China can claim the leadership from A to Z. And if you save the leadership and all the opportunities that come with it, you will always go for the next generation [6G] stronger and more aggressive,” Alain Mourad projected.

Another country with deep ties with national technology companies is Japan. In September, the telecom group Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) announced plans to invest in research and development of 6G. And there are other important players there helping the internet advance.

“Japan, I would probably say luckily had Rakuten, a disruptive new entrance to this highly dominated Japanese communications market. As an e-commerce giant and a previous startup, it is now a very large company,” explained Yuka Koshino, a Research Fellow for Japanese Security and Defence Policy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, during a webinar organised by the Center for a New American Security.

“But it has an investment capacity in R&D to adopt the most advanced network architecture. Furthermore, in order for Rakuten to compete with these existing traditional operators, Rakuten had to find innovative and cost-effective solutions to expand market share and to attract mobile subscribers from zero.”

Global competition

Even though the United States and China monopolise news about mobile internet, other countries and regions are also implementing projects and visions for the 6G.

South Korea, deemed to be the first country to roll out commercial 5G, seems to emerge as a strong competitor for 6G, especially after the Korean government committed to investing US$ 170 million on research and development.
Japan has also laid out a detailed strategy to build a Beyond 5G environment, including the possibility of enabling 6G.

Other nations and regions are home to promising initiatives, like the 6G Flagship in Finland – the first program focused on 6G in the world – and the Horizon Europe in the European Union, which will foster knowledge generation in related fields.
In the next chapter of this series, you will learn what each countries’ plans are and where they stand in the race for 6G.




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