Although 5G is still coming out to replace the old 4G standard, its successor 6G is already in development. Like its predecessors, 6G networks are expected to be faster and handle bandwidth with lower latency.

6G networks are expected to offer more diverse capabilities than their predecessors and are more likely to support applications beyond current mobile applications, such as virtual and augmented reality (VR / AR), AI and Internet of Things (IoT). It has also been speculated that mobile network operators will adopt flexible, decentralized 6G models, with local spectrum licensing, spectrum sharing and infrastructure sharing. All will be handled by an automated intelligent management backed by mobile computing, short package communication and blockchain technology.

New wireless communication standards have been developed around every ten years, and 6G is expected to come into play around 2030. Apparently, nothing is set in stone about 6G, and even its definition could be replaced with something other. With that in mind, there are some theoretical aspects of 6G and what it may have to offer when it is finally decided. With the launch of 5G, consumers will continue to use more mobile devices and consume data online at an ever-increasing rate.

While telecommunications are still relying on 4G for consumer use, 5G is well on its way to replacing aging technology, albeit very slowly, with most located in dense cities. The 4G / LTE standard, introduced in 2009, was a game changer for mobile devices as it increased data speeds and allowed users to stream HD movies, play games and transfer large amounts of data at approximately 33 Mbps.

5G moves beyond 4G capabilities using microwave and mmWave technology to increase its speed to around 900 Mbps or higher. Those higher speeds and bandwidth are comparable to commercial broadband providers, allowing the growth of applications that move beyond media streaming. IoT and related devices will have real-time detection capabilities. Edge computing can take advantage of the cloud and access data instantly. Healthcare providers can gain instant knowledge from patients holding medical equipment. 5G offers applications in retail, industry, agriculture and manufacturing. The list is almost endless, but we will not see the true potential of 5G for some time yet until new technology is deployed worldwide.

Significant differences between each standard, including speeds and applications. (Credit Cabe Atwell)

6G technologies

As mentioned, 6G is too early in the development phase to have factual information on its technologies or capabilities. It is suspected that most telecoms will adopt flexible, decentralized business models with local spectrum licensing / sharing and 5G-like infrastructure sharing. According to a 2019 paper by Virginia Tech, engineers describe 6G as a fully integrated, Internet-based system that provides instant communication between users, devices, vehicles and the surrounding environment. Imagine going beyond the internet of things on the internet of everything, which is what 6G could theoretically provide.

Some experts believe that 6G can reach speeds of up to 1 Tbps, a thousand times faster than the 1 Gbps that current fiber optic packages can provide. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened the 6G speed perspective in 2019, allowing companies to experiment with terahertz waves (AKA submillimeter waves), which fall in the 95 GHz spectrum up to 3 THz. In comparison, 5G uses low-bandwidth, mid-range or high-bandwidth millimeter (mmWave) and microwave technology to achieve a frequency range of 24 GHz to 40. While terahertz waves can increase 6G speeds in the 1 Tbps range , it would suffer the same limitations as 5G in that it has a limited range and requires “observation” between the broadcaster and the end user.

Engineers at the University of California Santa Barbara have created a device that can help speed up the 6G development process using high-mobility electronic transistors N-Polar gallium nitride (HEMTs). Those HEMTs include a junction between two materials with different bands that function as a channel instead of a doped region commonly found in MOSFETS. As a result, HEMTs allow the device to operate at much higher frequencies (140 THz to 230 THz), such as those required by 6G.

Last year, researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and Osaka University in Japan designed a terahertz wave chip that can be used for 6G. Earlier this year, engineers at Millimeter Wave Products developed amplifiers for G-bands operating in terahertz waves. These are just some of the goal setting shareware that you can use to get 6G up and running. Given the slow progress of 5G proliferation, it may be a decade or more before 6G becomes a reality.

(Credit Nvidia via Flickr)

Possible applications for 6G

It is not easy to know what 6G will be capable of at this stage, but if it is something like setting previous standards, the impact can be huge. Autonomous vehicles, drones, intelligent factories and AI have gained a lot of traction during 5G growth. Some experts think that 6G can further advance those applications, even charging Artificial Intelligence to keep it all coordinated and running smoothly. Self-driving machines can use collaborative AI to talk to others about navigation, pedestrian avoidance / facilities, and traffic updates. Artificial intelligence and marginal computing can cause devices, such as traffic and street lights, to act as network antennas in the surrounding areas, allowing vehicles and people to maintain a Wi-Fi connection.

VR and AR can be made more attractive. Imagine cell surfaces and objects that feel vulnerable through connected implants or even human / computer wireless interfaces. A white paper Virginia Tech 2019 describes that smartphones will eventually be thrown in favor of wearable devices, headphones / glasses and implants for multi-sensor (XR) augmented reality. Others predict the complete fusion of cyberspace and physical reality. Imagine thinking about a particular subject, then having access to data stored within the cloud for more information – the ultimate tool for student fraud.

Of course, these potential applications are speculative as searches for 6G are still in their infancy, and 5G is still a few years away from full deployment. The internet may even need to be rebuilt before it can support 6G. All those devices will require constant power in some cases, relying on batteries and stable connection to the mains. All that energy production and use can also be detrimental to the ecosystem if not connected to a sustainable energy source. That said, 6G certainly brings more to the table than its predecessors, at least on a speculative paper, but it will be an exciting prospect if any of these applications are to be implemented.