With its endless possibilities and lifechanging capabilities, 6G is giving us all something to dream about.
Will we finally see a combination of physical, digital, and biological worlds? New realms of interactivity powered by holographic, tactile, and physiological communication? Touch and feel transmitted as bits of data, like voice and video today?
The answer is yes. If all goes according to plan, anyway.
But if 5G taught us one thing, it’s that plans can quickly deviate from their original expectations.
So, what can we learn from 5G’s journey that will help us avoid mistakes as the industry begins to formulate 6G’s future? What new challenges are swirling that we should anticipate? And how do we start planning for 6G’s complexities today?
These are the questions we’re beginning to explore as telecom aims to chart a clear course to 6G and beyond.
It is likely that the first deployments of 6G are at least eight years away. So why is there already so much focus on the next next-gen networks?
For starters, with 5G still in its infancy, with holistic tangible benefits yet to materialize, looking ahead is simply human nature.
Also, we know by now these things take time – from vision setting, through establishing clear technology objectives, defining development requirements, implementing production and validation cycles and, finally, realizing commercial availability.
On this front, 6G will prove to be an especially onerous undertaking as government investments and stakeholder marketing machines ramp up earlier than ever. We’ve already seen billions in government funding allocated, with 6G eyed as an enabler of economic stimulation, global leadership, and a means to protect critical national infrastructure. There was early hype around 5G, but this time around, mega funding roadmaps are already being established by China, Japan, Germany, the European Union, South Korea, and the United States.
Cheering on these developments are marketers already eager to position for future opportunities as press amplify efforts.
Where the hype ends and reality begins is a little challenging to discern right now. What’s clear is that 5G is destined to share the spotlight with 6G for the foreseeable future.
What’s clear is that 5G is destined to share the spotlight with 6G for the foreseeable future.
What to expect
Beyond the new sensory-level experiences noted above, we’re already tracking several expected developments further driving 6G anticipation:
Intelligent skin-level sensors: Healthcare monitoring could be revolutionized via early disease detection or pandemic tracking, all without the need for a needle.
Digital twins: Having proven extraordinary value in 5G, digital twins will deliver a highly accurate and synchronous digital representation of physical entities to optimize decision-making across the design and operation of complex systems.
Even faster speeds: With every G comes the promise of speed boosts and 6G may truly blaze a trail with target latencies as low as .1ms and data rates as fast as 1Tbps, representing 10-100x improvements over 5G.
How will it happen?
Everything discussed to date represents aspiration fueled by ambition, with roots in what is known to be possible today and what is hoped will be feasible in the near future.
We’re in a critical early phase where we must research and discover what scoping and metrics are required for the new types of services and levels of consistency and determinism that will make them useful. It’s possible the industry will conclude in the coming years we need new types of metrics that trump speed – expanding to include issues like trust, quality of life and sustainability.
We must also engage end users earlier than what was done in the buildup to 5G. The industry largely followed an “if you build it, they will come” playbook, but we understand now that any viable strategy for success is far more complicated than that. There is extensive research to perform. Use case due diligence and exploration to conduct. Exacting needs to be identified and understood with three-dimensional depth.
Expense should also be examined prudently as the practical nature of affordability, simplicity and manageability are all considered – lest we fall into the trap of letting excitement blind us to the realities of service delivery and operational costs.
The possibility also exists that new political realities will create 6G offshoots as globalism is overshadowed by movements toward isolationism not previously seen during the planning for new generations of mobile networks.
Taking the next steps (and learning along the way)
We embark on the journey to 6G with optimism and no illusions that this will be easy, especially given experiences bringing 5G networks to market.
Having sound 5G validation strategies in place that closely align with emerging opportunities like Open RAN (ORAN) and cloud, will facilitate staying on course as 6G begins to emerge. The best advantage the industry can give itself is plotting a natural progression of effort and capabilities versus starting with massive day zero complexity.
In short, the idea is to architect a sound 5G testing strategy today that is responsive, iterative, and resilient enough to withstand and support the needs of 6G tomorrow.
On this blog, we’ll be tracking our exploratory work, lesson we’re taking from 5G and industry-wide developments with an eye on what comes next for what will perhaps be the last G.
To learn more about 5G trends, read The Spirent 2022 5G Report.