What is 6G and how far are we from rollout?

Everything you need to know about 6G mobile connectivity

Yes, you read that right – 6G. It might seem like only yesterday that 4G was the new kid in town, or that the promise of 5G was all anyone could talk about, but now the hype is building about the next big thing in mobile connectivity. But while there is a lot of buzz around 6G, what do we actually know about it so far?

What does 6G mean?

6G is the sixth generation of wireless mobile technology. It has five predecessors, starting with 1G, which was still analogue technology, and followed by 2G, which was digital and made text messages possible. 3G enabled the smartphone and video calls, and 4G, the current standard worldwide, brought with it the capabilities to support our modern-day, digital lifestyles. The latest available generation, 5G, is still being rolled out all over the world. It can deliver the faster data transfer speeds and low latency needed to keep up with emerging technologies such as AR and the ever-expanding Internet of Things.

As with the generations before it, 6G will improve on the capabilities of its predecessors, offering faster and more advanced mobile broadband for its users. However, we don’t yet know exactly what form that will take. 

What will 6G be used for?

There are currently no standards set for 6G as it’s in the very early stages of research and development. But that’s not to say there’s nothing to talk about here – after all, 5G was well on its way to becoming a usable technology before solid standards were agreed by the GSMA.

One main feature of 6G is it will be fast. While 5G is already considered to be pretty speedy, with a 20 Gbits/sec peak data rate, 6G could offer peak data rates 50 times faster, at 1,000 Gbits/sec. That’s according to Samsung at least, which is already working to develop this next generation of communications technology.

This company first announced it was starting research into 6G in mid-2019 and in July 2020 its Advanced Communications Research Center published a whitepaper – The Next Hyper-Connected Experience for All. In it, the company says both machines and humans will consume 6G equally, and that it will facilitate high-fidelity mobile holograms and “truly immersive extended reality”, among other breakthroughs.

Others have described it as delivering information “instantly” or at the speed of human thought.

Theodore S. Rappaport, founder of NYU WIRELESS, told CNN Business in February: “Work at New York University shows that by 2035, 6G will usher in the ability to send wireless signals at the rate of human computation.

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“Dubbed ‘wireless cognition’ by researchers, 6G could mean that human intelligence could eventually be sent over the air instantaneously. Remote control robots and artificial intelligence applications with human-like capabilities could be enabled over 6G cellphones (sic).”

When will I get 6G?

Before you get too excited by the thought of wireless cognition or being able to download nearly 150 movies to your mobile device in a second, it’s important to note that 6G remains very much in the early stages of research.

Finland’s University of Oulu says “fundamental research is 10-15 years ahead of industrial standards”. This chimes with statements from others researching the technology, including Samsung and Ericsson, that 6G won’t come to market until 2030 at the earliest.

Although you may start to see 6G technology making headlines – for example, there are reports of China having sent "the world's first 6G satellite" into space – we will not know until the telecoms industry agrees on the specifications of 6G whether these technologies actually meet the standards.

And considering how slow the roll-out of 5G has been, both in terms of network infrastructure and handset availability, it’s unlikely 6G will become commonplace before 2035.

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