Guest Post: 6G at MWC – Here’s What’s Really Needed to Make It a Success

February 19, 2024

Written by 6GWorld Contributor

By Dr Christoph Dietzel, Global Head of Products and Research at DE-CIX

As the mobile and connectivity world converges at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2024 in Barcelona, there is one topic likely to run through every discussion – the path to 6G. While 5G is still being rolled out globally, transforming everything from city landscapes to medical services, the industry is already peering further into the horizon. 6G might not be slated for deployment until around 2030, but it’s already promising to revolutionize the connectivity landscape. That’s because 6G is more than just a successor to 5G; it will fundamentally change how we perceive and use mobile networks.

5G has laid a transformative groundwork, characterized by high data rates and ultra-reliable low-latency communications, making way for its use in critical sectors and a range of edge use cases. Its full potential, expanding beyond smartphones to a variety of industrial and commercial applications, is only now beginning to be tapped. But as we edge closer to realizing 5G’s complete capabilities, we’re already making room for 6G. This next generation of telecoms isn’t an incremental upgrade as in past generations, but a leap into a future where hyper-realistic virtual interactions, advanced digital twins, and global connectivity through novel technologies like terahertz communications and 3D network architectures become everyday realities. As will no doubt become clear at MWC 2024, the transition to 6G is not just about a connectivity “upgrade”; it’s about preparing the infrastructure and the global ecosystem to support these revolutionary applications.

The Potential and Promise of 6G: More Than Just Speed

Imagine a world where high-resolution digital twins, virtual representations of large physical objects or environments, are continuously updated to reflect real-time changes. Such digital twins will play a pivotal role in various industries, from construction and urban planning to healthcare, providing unparalleled insights, testing capabilities, and control.

Performance will be vastly improved too, but this extends beyond just speed. Yes, terabit-per-second data rates will enable lightning-fast downloads and uploads, but the reduction in latency to between 10 and 100 microseconds means that actions can be executed in near real-time, crucial for applications like autonomous vehicles and remote medical consultations. To make these advancements possible, 6G will rely on innovative technologies that enable communication via terahertz waves, which operate at frequencies higher than those of 5G and offer the potential for faster data transfer as well as the ability to penetrate various materials more effectively, enabling sensory capabilities in the network. Combined with 3D network architecture, 6G aims to create a seamless and interconnected digital world, where data flows effortlessly, opening doors to previously unimaginable experiences and applications, such as hyper-realistic virtual medical consultations and the beaming of a 3D holographic representation of a participant into a face-to-face meeting.

Infrastructure: the key to Unlocking 6G’s Potential

However, the ambitious promises of 6G can only materialise with a robust infrastructure to support them. This goes beyond just laying the groundwork; it’s about constructing a web of interconnected elements that seamlessly facilitate the flow of data. From the antennas that transmit signals to the fibre optic backhauls that carry data over long distances, every component plays a vital role. Decentralised data centres will become the heart of this interconnected ecosystem, ensuring data processing and storage are closer to the source, reducing latency. What’s more, the establishment of Internet Exchanges (IXs) in much greater geographical density will be essential, connecting mobile networks not only to fixed-line and satellite networks but also to content, applications, clouds, and who knows what new services 6G will enable. It’s the combination of these elements that will pave the way for the transformative potential of 6G, enabling applications that demand high bandwidth and low latency to flourish in a connected world.

Decentralisation is a key facilitator here. The rollout of IX hubs combined with new fibre infrastructure and the addition of new data centres – particularly in remote areas – will make 6G deployment much easier. That’s because the more decentralised this infrastructure is, the shorter the distances that need to be bridged. In addition, this will mean there is less need for large roll-outs of decentralised micro data centres or edge clusters specifically designed for 6G use cases, as the 6G technology will be able to rely more heavily on the existing infrastructure ecosystem. Put simply, the decentralisation of network infrastructure is already happening, and couldn’t come at a better time for the deployment of 6G.

Who is in charge of Building the Infrastructure Needed?

This will depend on the sector and the use-case and will involve a wide array of stakeholders. For industrial scenarios, telcos would in general be very happy to take the lead and make 6G deployment for enterprises part of their business model. However, in many cases, we’re already seeing that large enterprises such as those in the automotive sector are already building 5G campus networks and plant connectivity themselves. These large companies have experienced teams on board who have built the corporate network, or have contractors responsible for their Wi-Fi deployment at production sites. They don’t need to build a large array for most campus set-ups, and the price difference is considerable between doing it themselves and involving a telco that wants to build a new business segment. Keeping in mind that Wi-Fi technology and standardisation is a constantly moving picture, it’s also fair to say that the “Wi-FI vs. 6G” technology gap will not be as significant as it appears today. What’s more, most industrial companies emphasise maintaining control over their infrastructure and remaining independent. They want to keep control over the choice of technology, the know-how, and the dataflows.

Preparing for the Future: Steps Towards 6G Readiness

As we anticipate the arrival of 6G around 2030, it becomes evident that preparation must begin now. Governments, industry players, and academic institutions must align their strategies with the evolving landscape of connectivity. While it may seem premature for some businesses still exploring the possibilities of 5G, it’s essential to recognise that 6G readiness is a gradual process. Just as ‘5G advanced’ is set for rollout in 2025, serving as an intermediary step between 5G and 6G, the industry needs to focus on incremental advancements that will bridge the gap. Spectrum availability, network scalability, and energy efficiency will be critical factors in this transition. To support the envisioned use cases of 6G, which demand unprecedented interconnectedness and real-time data processing, infrastructure investments must go hand in hand with the development of more efficient, automated, and highly scalable Internet Exchanges. This collaborative effort will be the foundation for realising the full potential of 6G and ensuring it benefits not only businesses but also people’s daily lives.

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