6G technology is the sixth generation of cellular technology that promises to provide diverse connectivity at microsecond speeds. Still in development, the mobile network will operate via higher radio frequencies with greater capacity and 1,000-times faster latency than 5G.
While the 6G network will take advantage of 5G’s existing infrastructure, it differentiates itself by using ultra-high radio frequencies to carry more data at faster speeds, and it will have built-in artificial intelligence with machine learning too.
6G is the sixth generation of mobile network standards for cellular technology. Building off of 5G, 6G will operate on higher radio frequencies, providing more bandwidth and lower latency at microsecond speeds.
Even though 5G has barely made it out the gate, it’s already being outmoded by new tech’s rapid pace. As it stands, telecommunication services collect information from the network, externally run it through AI machines, then use the results to go back in and manually reconfigure the network. But with 6G, “we expect that the network should be able to make decisions on its own at every layer,” Shamik Mishra, CTO of connectivity at tech consulting company Capgemini Engineering, told Built In.
With 6G, users can expect to instantaneously transfer data and do away with buffering, lags and disconnections. In a similar way to how 2G gave us text messaging and 4G introduced an entire mobile app system, 6G will enhance machine-to-machine communication, creating greater interoperability in a “smart,” Internet-of-Things era.
“Faster wireless communication means not just faster video streaming or file downloads, but the potential for new applications ranging from networked vehicles, smart factories and collaborative virtual and augmented reality,” said Swarun Kumar, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.
Future applications could improve public safety, enable health monitoring systems and improve facial recognition technology.
Differences Between 5G and 6G
6G will expand on top of the existing wireless communication infrastructure of 5G, and it will be designed to surpass 5G technology in every way.
In terms of speed, 6G delivers one terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) of data at one microsecond, while 5G delivers 20 gigabytes at 1 millisecond (1,000 microseconds).
5G laid the groundwork for a user-centric model, providing broadband at scale and enabling the launch of IoT. It brought “hyperconnectivity,” Mishra said, “making human-to-machine communication possible.”
But 6G’s technology will shift to a service-centric approach by accelerating the tech we know now into a more integrated digital world.
With less latency and faster communication, 6G will primarily serve machine-to-machine communication — simply because it’s so fast that our brains can’t perceive the difference.
“For human consumption,” Mishra said, “I don’t think 6G will change anything.”
In short: the faster machines communicate, the smoother everything runs.
When Is 6G Coming?
Experts expect 6G to be deployed by 2030. At the earliest, it could be 2028, according to researchers at IDTechEx.
“5G is still in its prime and, as adoption remains low, 5G carriers struggle to see a return on their investment,” said Trevor Francis, CEO of telecommunications company 46 Labs. “Lack of 5G adoption will likely push the need for 6G back even further.”
Who Is Working on 6G?
Governments, telecommunications providers, infrastructure companies, academic institutions and industry leaders are all currently developing tech for 6G networks.
For instance, South Korea’s Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute is working on terahertz frequency bands for faster speeds. Also, Japan’s Osaka University has teamed with Australia’s Adelaide University to develop a silicon-based microchip, so-called a multiplexer, that is used to split and join frequencies for easier transmission.
Advantages of 6G
New Spectrum Bands
Each new generation of mobile networks features a new spectrum of radio waves. In a section known as the mid-bands, 6G will be introducing a range that spans from 7 to 20 gigahertz, improving on 5G’s 24-to-40 gigahertz. “The lower the frequency bands are, the wider the area that can be covered,” telecommunications company Ericsson said in a blog post.
Low Latency, Faster Speeds
Latency, or the time it takes for a signal to bounce back round trip, will drop to the microsecond with 6G. Comparatively, users today typically experience a millisecond delay. Although this is a 1,000 times faster speed, it’s insignificant to the human eye. Reliability and overall functionality from real-time applications will become seamless.
As one of the key features to come out of a 6G network, machine-to-machine communication is anticipated to streamline significantly. AI would not only be built into the framework, but also capable of handling AI-enhanced tech. The network will better integrate and advance the Internet-of-Things ecosystem, deep learning, cloud data centers and mobile edge computing. Its infrastructure would be able to support 10 million devices per square kilometer, topping 4G’s 100,000 per square kilometer.
The 6G wireless network will be able to merge aerial, ground, sea and even space communications onto one platform. Operating on a new radio spectrum enables users to interact with devices that hold low data rates, such as biosensors and IoT devices, as well as those on the high end, like a cellphone mid-flight or en-route a bullet train.
“The future involves connectivity like we’ve never seen before — connected devices, smart cities and autonomous vehicles all process significant amounts of data,” Francis said. “To enjoy the internet speeds, we’ve become accustomed to, and better, requires a higher frequency.”
Disadvantages of 6G
Expensive to Build
To get 6G up and running, a new infrastructure will need to be deployed at scale, and that’s expensive. Designing new hardware that combines AI, nodes, edge computing and cloud data systems into new towers and antennae is the challenge. The good news is that many components, like physical layers and media access control, can be virtualized, so it’s only a matter of a software overhaul.
“To justify such a massive investment, 6G will most certainly need ‘killer apps’ that truly benefit from a quantum leap in wireless speeds and performance to be identified,” Kumar said. “However, if past history is any indication, the jump from 3G to 4G, for example, led to transformative new applications, ranging from video streaming and mobile gaming to ride-hailing apps.”
Vulnerable to Security Breaches
The size of 6G’s attack surface will inevitably increase, thanks to IoT, virtualized networks and open-source technology. This means that unauthorized users have more points of entry to potentially breach than before. Consider Deloitte’s report, finding that there are 22 connected devices in a United States’ household on average.
Research suggests that data processing, threat detection, traffic analysis and data encryption top the list of critical concerns for 6G networks. High mobility requires interconnected networks; however, the more centralized a system is, the more prone to security threats it becomes. Fortified hardware, predictive capabilities of AI and machine learning, blockchain and quantum encryption are being entertained as possible security solutions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is 6G available?
No, 6G is not yet available, but 6G networks are currently in development and expected to launch around 2030.
How much faster will 6G be than 5G?
6G is expected to perform at 1 terabyte per second, which is 1,000-times faster than 5G speeds.
Will there be a 7G?
Inevitably, there will be a 7G, yes. There is no clear definition of this generation as of yet, but the current take is that it will focus on universal integration, connecting local and international telecommunications.