by Roger Nichols, 6G Program Manager, Keysight Technologies
5G is the most ambitious leap forward for wireless communication technology since “cellular” first appeared, but it could pale in comparison with the next generation planned for first launch at the end of the decade. It will build on what will be achieved by that time with 5G, while delivering hundred gigabit-per-second data rates, reducing latency by another significant chunk, exploring the frontier of sub-terahertz frequencies, exploiting the massive potential of AI, and enabling applications—some of which have not been conceived yet. Whether or not all this (and more) is achievable remains to be seen, but I am prepared to make some projections for the coming years.
First, the current misplaced criticism about 5G not meeting expectations will begin to temper with the growing deployment of Release 16 and early deployment of Release 17, which will enable the fuller realization of the original 5G vision. ITU (and to be more specific, ITU-R Working Party 5D) is expected to release figures of merit for 6G as the part that will lay the groundwork for targets the industry must meet and for the specifications to be worthy of what they call “IMT-2030.” However, work on 6G standards will not begin this year or next because many of the required technologies are in the research stage. There is also plenty of work to be done on 5G standards before the first study items for 6G begin.
The availability of spectrum will continue to be a major issue because much of what is available below 7 GHz is spoken for. In the USA, the conflict in the 12 GHz band under both an FCC NPRM and a newer NOI will grow as industries and governments wrangle over how spectrum will be managed in the coming decades. Deployment of infrastructure for the FR2 millimeter-wave spectrum will grow slowly because more improvements are needed in the standard, and continued reductions will be required in the cost of deployment.
That being said, millimeter-wave frequencies offer massive amounts of untapped bandwidth, which 6G will need in abundance to achieve the data rates required to enable many of the applications inherent in the 6G vision. We can expect the 2030s to focus on solving spectrum challenges to allow future network innovations to thrive.
Huge public events are terrific venues for the wireless industry to showcase its latest breakthroughs, and the first of these focusing on 6G should be the 2025 Osaka World Expo. I suspect we will begin to see news ramping from the Japanese government later this year. In addition, one of the large American carriers will put 6G on the radar for the 2028 summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles. As a worldwide Olympic partner, expect Samsung to unveil a 6G deployment, which will be a pivotal part of how viewers consume events. For example, we can expect one of the two Olympic ceremonies to happen in the metaverse.
The arrival of 6G will allow new and novel network operators in the U.S. to enter the market. The tier-one mobile network operators in the U.S. have enjoyed a comparative stable market, but that will change with the arrival of 6G. The 5G expansion is already witness to significant investment and growth of businesses like Microsoft’s Azure and Amazon’s AWS providing infrastructure that was once the sole domain of the Verizon’s and AT&T’s of the industry. I think we will see Amazon, Microsoft, and other members of hyper-scaler domain capitalize on 6G to redefine what it means to be a tier-one mobile network operator.
I hold out hope on the potential of those working on 6G to create a more inclusive world. Rural areas and remote industries like rail, offshore drilling, or mining will benefit from the enhanced connectivity 6G should provide. In addition, the network’s reliability, security, and ultra-low latency will further accelerate fintech’s adoption of wireless in everything from mobile banking to high-speed finance. However, these and other 6G benefits will come at a cost, as the technology will, at least at first, be more expensive than its predecessors. Given this, we can expect adoption disparities. As with every new generation, providing we can maintain a single global standard, the economies of scale and the expansion of the associated business ecosystems will allow the costs to be optimized for the growing variety of vertical businesses—we can expect to take full advantage of what 6G will bring.