6G – The New Frontier in Information and Communications Technology

While the efforts to implement and increase the adoption rate of 5G technology are still at the starting line, researchers and players in the communication industry are already setting their eyes on the next frontier: 6G. Even though this technology is still in the research phase, it has the potential to propel the IT sector to a new level, allowing for very high processing speeds, low latency, and increased bandwidth. Moreover, adopting this technology will support the IT sector in aligning with societal goals (e.g., high-speed services available anywhere, anytime), satisfy increasing market expectations, and improve the efficiency of the sector’s operations.

Over a span of 30 years, mobile communications technology has gone from barely maintaining the connection during phone calls to secured conversations, networks that support rapid and clear transmission of data, SMS, roaming conference calls, multimedia services, VoIP apps, video streaming, and video conferencing services.

The evolution of communication technology

5G – one step away from market adoption

The current fifth-generation technology is faster than any other previous generation, promising reduced battery consumption, improved coverage, and seamless device-to-device communication. Commercial 5G networks are operational; however, the adoption rates are low, and the roll-out is proceeding at different speeds across the world. According to Ericsson’s Mobility Report, the number of 5G subscriptions is expected to reach one billion in 2022, while the GSMA, an industry organization representing the interests of mobile network operators, expects 5G to account for 21 percent of all mobile connections in 2025.   

Even though the next logical step after 5G is 6G, there is also a significant intermediate evolutionary phase, 5G Advanced, which is now taking shape and starting to be implemented across industries.

6G – the next frontier

While 5G is still under roll-out, efforts to shape the 6G infrastructure have already begun. This technology will take IT applications for smart cities, smart farming, industrial automation, and robotics to the next level. Moreover, because 6G will be built upon the previous generation in terms of technological infrastructure and use cases, it will allow the IT sector to scale it up in an optimized and cost-effective way.

The vast majority of IT applications will benefit from this surge in terms of efficiency, capabilities, and speed: Digital twins, virtual models of physical objects or processes, will be operational at a larger scale, new types of man-machine interfaces will be enabled, and the potential of artificial intelligence and machine learning will be unleashed. In terms of localization and geospatial imagery, 6G will substantially improve positioning accuracy and potentially extend coverage into space while at the same time meeting extreme connectivity requirements, including sub-millisecond latency.

IT players that are already developing AI-based applications will benefit from a synergy between 6G and AI that can unlock new opportunities in an unprecedented way: On the one hand, AI will help improve 6G performance; on the other hand, 6G will provide the infrastructure to propel the use of AI across all sectors and in multiple use cases.

Innovators and early adopters

Important players in the IC&T field have already kicked off 6G-related research projects or experiments. In 2020, China launched the first 6G experimental satellite to test data transmission using the terahertz spectrum. The country also holds most 6G patents, closely followed by the US.

In April 2011, AT&T, one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies, applied for experimental licenses with the US Federal Communications Commission. This would allow the company to showcase the functionality and capabilities of 5G Advanced and 6G wireless systems.

Samsung, a multinational electronics and information technology company, plans to host its first 6G forum, where scientists and industry experts will explore next-generation communication technologies. Nokia Bell Labs, the Finnish multinational IT&C and consumer electronics company, has also begun research work in the 6G area, planning to make this technology commercially available by 2030.

Public or private organizations in Japan, Germany, South Korea, and Russia are also establishing research facilities or starting pilot projects. In the US, the Next G Alliance, launched in 2020, aims to advance North American leadership in 6G. On the same note, the EU initiated the 6G flagship project, aiming to advance the research in this area.

An eye on the future

The vision of the future of 6G tends to converge across business players, industry organizations, and research centers. The most optimistic prediction places 6G commercial roll-out as early as 2028, while more conservative approaches predict that it will become available in 2035. Most of the roadmaps of the important players in the telecommunication field envision 6G commercial availability in 2030.    

However, there are still important challenges that need to be addressed before full deployment of the new generation of communication technology becomes possible, such as new technological advancements to differentiate the new generation from the previous one, global, unified standards in order to prevent market confusion and fragmentation, as well as diverse and secure supply chains.

Find out more about other technologies that will have a tremendous impact on the IT sector in the future.

Catalina Sparleanu

Working with top experts to identify how the latest innovations and disruptive technologies will impact businesses, industries, and society. I have an academic background in social science (Ph.D. in Sociology), an MBA degree, and experience in private companies and NGOs.

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