Down to Earth: The Vendor’s and Operator’s View on 6G

May 8, 2023

Written by Caio Castro

If the first day of the recent 6GSymposium Spring featured several quotes about rethinking approaches to policy-making and standardisation for 6G, the second saw a similar message: calm down, folks.

Vendors and operators showed a similar standpoint and challenged how the process of migrating from one G to another has been conducted in recent generations.

“I don’t think that the ten-year cycle is a sustainable model, not only from an environmental perspective but also financially,” said Maria Cuevas, Networks Research Director at BT Applied Research. “I don’t think the end user cares about ‘G’ anymore. They want the capacity but don’t [necessarily] know that 5G is providing it.”

Apparently, industry researchers are also not much concerned about titles. “Doing research is a continuum. They [research teams] are not concerned about ‘Gs’. You don’t stop research because a new ‘G’ has been launched. You keep going,” explained Dan Warren, Director of Advanced Network Research at Samsung.

According to him, however, 6G – or whatever the technology is called – offers an opportunity for a fundamental change of approach. “With 5G, we [the industry] are trying to create new markets, more B2B than B2C, and that requires a different mindset. What I think will be different [from 5G] is the business model,” he added.

The 6G Value

The biggest complaint operators and vendors have is the need for more time for technology maturation. All players are still exploring the 5G capabilities, while several countries have just deployed their 5G networks. However, the consensus in the panels is that 6G technology could arrive even before the 5G ecosystem is fully ready or, at least, understood.

Even though determining optimal timeframes for migrations was not the focus of the discussions, experts turned their attention to how 6G could help the telecommunications industry.

“It’s important to see 6G as a way to bring the full capabilities of 5G to life, adding more commercial value to 5G,” suggested Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer at Vodafone. “We have to ensure that 5G is massively adopted, and maybe 6G is how we close the gap.”

This gap might be closed with the rise of different approaches to current problems. Coverage is one of them.

“It’s not about making sure you have access, but ensuring you can use the services,” explained Matthew Baker, Fellow at Nokia Bell Labs.

“The biggest frustration is coverage. ‘Coverage’ used to be about being able to [just] get a signal. Today, it’s about the data rate that I need to do what I want to do,” he said.

Those definition changes should be more frequent and come in different areas in the future, the experts pointed out.

“We must go beyond today’s KPIs, and sustainability is one of them. It’s not to say we do a bad job with 5G, but we still have work ahead,” Baker observed.

“AI, for example. People think it’s a given that AI will come alongside 6G. We can see AI as a cool technology, but there are moments when AI can be a problem. Some say AI will help us save energy. Did anyone look at how much energy AI consumes?”

A lot of question marks, only a few answers to them. One takeaway, however, is clear: the entire ecosystem needs to think about the questions today. “If we [vendors] don’t get it right now, our friends the operators will suffer ten years down the road,” concluded Ian Corden, Visiting Professor at the University of Surrey.

Featured image by Caio Castro/6GWorld

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