Guest Article: It’s Not Too Early to Start Developing 6G

October 8, 2021

Written by Subhankar Pal
CATEGORY: Exclusives

By Subhankar Pal, Global Research & Innovation Leader for Future of Networks, Capgemini Engineering

At the end of 2020, 5G networks had 401 million users worldwide, up from about 15.5 million just 12 months earlier according to the research firm Omdia. That growth spurt is impressive, especially when you consider that just three years earlier, 5G standards were still on the drawing board.

The first 5G standard — for non-standalone (NSA) 5G New Radio (NR) — were approved in December 2017, followed by the standalone (SA) 5G NR specs in June 2018. The schedules for both were moved up roughly one year after several major vendors and operators agreed that marketplace demand for 5G’s multi-gigabit speeds, 1 ms latency and other advanced capabilities was already strong enough for commercial success.

They were right, judging by the 385.5 million customers who upgraded to 5G in 2020. It took 4G five years to reach the same adoption level, according to Omdia, which expects 5G’s global total to hit 619 million by the end of 2021.

But it’s important to remember why the industry accelerated 5G standards development: 4G was struggling to keep up with marketplace and technological trends, such as the rise of 4K video and other bandwidth-intensive applications. Mobile operators also recognised that 4G wouldn’t enable them to compete with copper and fibre. “Over [a] three- to five-year time horizon, unequivocally, 5G will serve as a fixed broadband replacement product,” AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said in January 2019.

The moral of this story is that although the mobile industry has done an impressive job of developing and then rolling out 5G — 163 networks at the end of 2020, and another 114 this year, according to TeleGeography — it can’t afford to rest on its laurels. That’s why it’s not premature to start developing 6G.

The Future is Now

In fact, work on 6G is well under way. For example, the Japanese government is providing ¥50 billion for 6G R&D, China created a national 6G R&D working group in November 2019 and the European Commission launched its Hexa-X 6G initiative in January 2021.





The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) founded the Next G Alliance in October 2020. “As countries around the globe progress ambitious 6G research and development initiatives, it is critical that North American industry steps forward to develop a collaborative roadmap to advance its position as a global leader over the next decade,” ATIS President and CEO Susan Miller said.
 
The digital divide – in space and on earth
 
Like 4G, 5G will start to struggle to keep up with technology trends and market opportunities. In fact, many of the use cases touted for 5G will need 6G capabilities, including 1 Tbps peak speeds, 100 µs latency, 3 b/s/Hz spectral efficiency, satellite deployability and more.
 
There’s also a host of bleeding-edge “cosmic” use cases, such as haptic commutation, which will enable people to digitally touch something and get the same feeling as if they physically touched it.
 
Isn’t this just gimmicky?  No. It actually would be useful for remote robotic surgery and other telehealth applications because it gives the doctor additional feedback they need. Telehealth was a use case touted with 5G, but it really needs 6G’s power and bandwidth to bring it to life – excuse the pun.
 
Fact is, this and other cosmic use cases will take years to mature, but one thing is clear today: 5G doesn’t have the features and capabilities necessary to meet their KPIs.
 

 


Source: White Paper on Broadband Connectivity in 6G

For example, digital teleportation creates a full 3D image, which could require between 100 Gbps and 1 Tbps of connectivity. With a maximum bandwidth of around 100 GHz, 6G could support those kinds of ultra-demanding applications.
 
Another key use case is bridging the digital divide. Many of the unconnected live in rural and remote areas where it’s difficult and expensive to add cellular base stations. LEO satellites make commercial sense to serve those areas — they are less expensive to deploy than a 5G terrestrial network to serve low-density markets. That’s why 6G is already being designed to support space-based use cases. For example, in November 2020, China launched the world’s first 6G experimental satellite.
 
By studying those cosmic and other next generation use cases, the mobile industry can ensure that 6G is designed from the ground up to meet those requirements. The industry successfully followed this forward-looking model with 5G, whose Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications (URLLC) and Massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC) features were created to support demanding, emerging use cases such as the Internet of Things.
 
6G will further enhance the 5G model into new features such as Very Large Volume & Tiny Instant Communications (VLV & TIC) and Beyond Best Effort and High Precision Communications (BBE & HPC). When 5G was being developed, operators, vendors and regulators recognised early on that it would need to support spectrum far beyond cellular’s traditional sub-6 GHz range.
 
6G will need to break new ground for the same 5G reasons: speed and availability. As operators get their 5G monetisation strategies in place, now is the time to start planning for 6G. Let the race begin.

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