The world’s major telecommunications equipment manufacturers already have their sights set on the next generation of mobile telephony, provisionally known as 6G, whose deployment is scheduled for the 2028-2030 horizon. China, Japan and South Korea are seamlessly backing their national champions Huawei, NEC DoCoMo and Samsung, as the United States looks for a way to create its own. Europe has two leading companies in the sector, Ericsson and Nokia, although they do not play in the continental league but in the world, which makes their support difficult. These next few years will, however, be key to forging alliances and ensuring that Europe does not lose the mobile telephony train again to the benefit of the new competition.
In recent months, Samsung , NTT DoCoMo, Nokia , Huawei and Ericsson have published extensive reports on their future vision for 6G, which should begin to take shape in 2023 to already have the basic regulations fully approved at the international level in 2027 and to start the deployment from 2028.
It seems absurd to speak now of “beyond 5G”, when it was only a few months ago that Release 16, which develops the first phase of the 5G regulations, and Release 17, which must complete all 5G regulations, have been definitively approved. it will be ready for twelve months at the earliest. But what is decided in this five-year period on 6G, even if it is not definitive, will fully condition the future generation of mobile telephony, which will be deployed over the next decade and will reach its zenith around 2035.
The main problem of 6G is not technological development in the coming years but to continue to have a single global regulation, which reconciles the various interests of equipment manufacturers and their countries
The temporal development of each generation of mobile telephony is not immutable nor does it obey any law or conspiracy theory, but it is a fact that, roughly, since the eighties, with the beginning of each decade, a new generation has begun and has been achieved its full development in the middle of each of the last decades. It is not very risky, therefore, to say that in the next decade the world’s telecommunications infrastructure, especially mobile telecommunications, will be governed by substantially different and improved regulations compared to the current one.
With a certain probability, however, the generation that succeeds 5G will not be disruptive or introduce radical changes compared to what will already be in three or four years, neither in performance and capacity nor in applications. With 5G, they have been very creative when it comes to envisioning future scenarios, so the basic task of 6G would be to make them fully a reality. And with a condition that will prove essential: the drastic reduction of electricity consumption from the networks.
Although data transmission increases exponentially, the total energy consumed must inexorably fall, much more than the forecasts for 5G at the end of this decade. 6G will have to be intrinsically very frugal when it comes to consuming power, or the anticipated data transmission increase will be impossible because not as much power will be available.
6G encounters proliferate
In this month of October there have been two 6G summits, which highlight the current status of the issue. At the beginning of the month, the 5G ++ Online Summit, organized by IEEE, took place virtually in Germany, specifically in Dresden, and a week ago the United States organized the 6G Symposium, also virtual. The Dresden event was more technical while the US event was more political as it sought to “increase public awareness, excitement and commitment to articulate a powerful vision for 6G.” It goes without saying that in the United States.
The race to develop 6G has already started for months. Samsung and Huawei are ahead, especially in the development of base stations, which will form the basic nucleus of future networks, and Japan already made it clear before the summer that it does not want to be left behind, with its “champion” NTT DoCoMo at the fore, which has recently strengthened its shareholding composition. Meanwhile, the United States is desperately fighting to make up for lost time with previous mobile generations, boosting private companies and with the support of its three national operators, although the main shareholder of one of them, T-Mobile US, is Germany’s DT.
Europe leaves the daisy on its public role, although it has the headquarters of two of the most important private companies in the sector, the Swedish Ericsson and the Finnish Nokia, which play to maintain a totally international presence, both in Asia and in the United States and Europe itself. The Finnish University of Oulu is however taking a very active role in the development of 6G internationally, with the organization of numerous round tables and technical articles, which can be see in 6G Waves magazine.
The United States wants to be a dominant player in 6G, after a long slumber, which will cause strong tensions with companies that own patents and technology and the countries that support them
At the Dresden meeting, Magnus Frodigh, who heads the 700 researchers at Ericsson Research, painted a future with 6G “in which even the smartphone will not be necessary” and even went further: “Advanced technology will allow the development of the Internet of the senses ”. For Frodigh, 6G will support a “complete experience with the senses” through sounds, signals and movements that will create augmented and virtual realities “as if it were there.”
The presentation of the future outlined by Ericsson was very vague, with empty words of content like “platform of networks”, “cognitive networks” and “factory of computer networks”, that “will support a digitized and programmable world”. In any case, it served to make it clear that 6G will be a reality in the next decade. “We are facing a journey to 6G, a very exciting journey,” said Frodigh, while emphasizing the importance of 6G being safe and expressing concern about the possibility that the United States and China will clash over 6G technology.
Fully virtual environment
The virtual symposium on October 20 and 21 in the United States was much more political and strategic than technological, monopolized by heads of government agencies, academics, consultancies and telecommunications operators and organized by Northeastern University and InterDigital, a research center. Ajit Pal, chairman of the FCC, the US telecommunications regulatory body, opened the symposium with the suggestion that his task may be outdated with 6G, as he opined was already happening to some extent now. “It is not inconceivable that the change from a physical infrastructure to a virtualized one will eliminate the role of regulator of the FCC in the construction of the network and in the allocation of spectrum.”
If a technology like blockchain is capable of ensuring the integrity of documents and their compliance, what is the role of a central regulator, Pal wondered. Since he was appointed chairman of the FCC in 2012, his role has “changed substantially.” He has gone from being a strict regulator, with a clear framework for action, to becoming a negotiator or diplomat who must deal with conflicting conflicts, he said. And the looming trend to stimulate competition and negotiation between competing sectors and interests that is already seen with 5G means that no one can rest on their laurels for the future.
The vision offered at the American symposium by Karri Kuoppamaki, vice president of technology development and strategy at T-Mobile US, and Mazin Gilbert, vice president of network analytics and automation at AT&T, was different. For Kuoppamaki, you have to think about developing 6G, “but doing it right”, making sure it produces clear benefits and improved use cases. Gilbert, on the other hand, was much more optimistic: 6G is not a myth or a vision, it will be a reality soon. And he outlined a future where technology will support it all and immersive virtual reality will transform industries and life without leaving home.
Alliance for the next generation
On May 20, the ATIS (Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions) training was announced, which, as its name indicates, promotes collaboration and a holistic approach to advanced work related to 5G and 6G. Now, ATIS has formalized the creation of the Next G Alliance, focused on North America and whose purpose is to advance “In the leadership of North American mobile technology in 6G and beyond in the next decade.”
Among the founding members are the main North American carriers such as AT&T, Bell Canada, Verizon, T-Mobile US, Telus and US Cellular but also manufacturers such as Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, Ciena and Qualcomm, apart from Facebook and Microsoft. Next month the association’s governing body has to be constituted and a “national roadmap” for 6G has to be drawn up and one that positions North America as the global leader in this mobile technology.
It is not clear if it is taken into account that the development of 6G, like previous mobile generations, depends on international organizations such as the ITU and the 3GPP, where different working groups meet that elaborate standards by consensus and respect for patents current and future is essential, as well as that there is a single international regulation. Nationalist interests should be left, as far as possible, on the sidelines, for the benefit of common interests worldwide.
What seems beyond any doubt is that in the next decade there will be a new generation of mobile telephony and, if possible, unique for everyone, although the budding fragmentation of the Internet makes it difficult for uniformity to be as it has been until now. 6G is also expected to operate at a peak speed of 1,000 gigabits per second, with typical speeds for the common user of one gigabit per second, versus today’s 5G peak of 20 gigabits per second. Network latency will need to be less than a millisecond and double spectral efficiency compared to 5G, as well as double energy efficiency. For Samsung, according to his vision, it is inevitable that new networks use the terahertz (1,000 gigahertz) band, from 100 GHz to 10THz.
To support speeds of one terabit per second, the range of the 6G base stations will be only 200 meters or even less, according to Tetsuya Kawanishi of Waseda University in Tokyo. This will require having ten times more antennas than population. Japan now has some 600,000 base stations and Kawanishi predicts that 6G will require the deployment of 1 billion antennas in Japan and up to 100 billion globally.
Luckily, they could be very small antennas, the size of a smartphone, which can be placed anywhere. But first an international consensus must be reached. If it succeeds for the next Release 17, it is already expected to be complex, for the following ones it will be even more so if the current climate of confrontation between China and the United States continues or worsens and makes the essential dialogue with five or six bands or world regions impossible. In reality, the main problem with 6G is not the technological development five or ten years from now, but rather continuing to have a unique regulation worldwide.