Is 6G Ready to Make an Appearance?
Despite 5G connectivity not being universally accessible, even in developed regions, preparations and investigations for the next generation, 6G, are already in progress. Each iteration of mobile network technology enhances the capabilities of its predecessor and introduces new features in approximately a 10-year cycle. For instance, 2G (1990) introduced digital voice calls and SMS, 3G (2000) enabled mobile web browsing, 4G (2010) brought faster data speeds for mobile video, and 5G (2020) enhanced mobile broadband with lower latency, facilitating applications such as the industrial Internet of Things, digital twins, autonomous vehicles, smart infrastructure, and remote healthcare.
So, what is 6G?
It represents the upcoming mobile network generation succeeding 5G, specifically following a transitional phase known as 5G Advanced, built on the 3GPP’s Release 18 standard. The finalization of Release 18 is anticipated in mid-2024, with device and network support for 5G Advanced likely to be available by 2025.
According to 5G Americas, 5G Advanced will incorporate significant enhancements in AI and extended reality, paving the way for highly intelligent network solutions supporting an even broader range of use cases. Nokia suggests that 6G will refine and amplify every improvement brought by 5G, taking network connectivity to the next level, especially in areas like smart cities, agriculture, manufacturing, and robotics.
When will 6G Arrive?
As for the arrival of 6G, if historical development patterns persist, the first commercial networks may emerge around 2030, potentially earlier in regions quick to deploy 5G, such as Asia. The upcoming Mobile World Congress 2023 is already featuring sessions on 6G, indicating a growing focus on the next generation of mobile networks.
Anticipate increased discussions about 6G as requirements and standards evolve, frequency bands, including terahertz levels, are defined, the Radio Access Network expands, AI-powered core networks are deployed, and devices with 6G support enter the market.
6G Use Cases
In terms of speed and use cases, while the requirements for 6G (IMT-2030) are not finalized, theoretical downlink data rates could reach one terabit per second, enabling a broader range of applications compared to 5G.
Qualcomm envisions 6G as a platform for a smarter society, leveraging advancements in wireless technology, semiconductors, materials, and AI/ML. It aims to address sustainability needs, enhance network efficiency, and improve device battery life while delivering experiences beyond the capabilities of 5G.
The 3GPP’s focus is currently on finalizing the Release 18 standard for 5G Advanced, with initial work on 6G specifications starting in Release 20 (2025) and completion in Release 21 (2028), aligning with commercial 6G network launches in 2030.
Regarding spectrum, 6G will support all frequency bands used by 5G and introduce two new bands, namely the upper mid-band range (7-24GHz) and sub-terahertz frequencies (100-1000GHz). These additions pose challenges but offer potential for wide-area broadband and various applications.
Support for non-terrestrial networks (NTNs), including satellites, is part of the 3GPP’s plan, with a goal to fill coverage gaps where terrestrial networks fall short. Developments in NTN standards will continue through Release 18 and beyond.
In conclusion, the promise of 6G is exciting, but it’s essential to maintain perspective, especially considering that 5G coverage is still lacking in many developed countries. While 6G is expected to bring significant advancements, tangible benefits may not become evident until 2030 or later for most people.