6G. What’s the deal?

With 5G becoming increasingly mainstream in the more developed mobile markets, the telecoms industry already has its eyes set on the next network technology. You guessed it, they are calling it 6G and it has been the talk in research institutes, analyst predictions, regulatory meetings, and MNO boardrooms. But how will the 6th generation be superior to the 5th? When can we expect to see it and how will it impact network experience for businesses and consumers?

First, we need common ground

2030 is the magic year being cited for 6G deployment, and while it may seem far away now, there’s plenty of work to do in the meantime. Firstly, regulators in the telecom space need a consensus on what 6G is. Think of it as a ‘6G wish list’, where top players from a host of industries and markets come together to find common ground on the vision and requirements for 6G. Secondly, international bodies such as 3GPP (The 3rd Generation Partnership Project) are responsible for defining the universal communications standards. Only then can we get the details of spectrum, devices, affordability, and rollout. 

The race is on

The biggest players - including Apple, Samsung, LG, Qualcomm - are already investing heavily in 6G. According to IDTechEx, several billions of dollars have been spent on developing 6G technology already, and the most developed markets in the world are all racing to get there first. Understandably so - it’s just a matter of time for the natural evolution of telecommunications to replace 5G with 6G (presumably only to be followed by 7G, 8G…).

South Korea looks to be taking an early lead. A year ago, in March 2022, the country’s Science Minister, Lim Hye-sook was the first to announce an ambitious 2028 launch date for commercial 6G services. Soon after the telecoms world was flooded with announcements on 6G progress: NEC, Fujitsu, NTT DOCOMO and parent company NTT launched the first joint experimental trials in Japan, Ericsson announced a 6G collaboration in the UK, the EU allocated funding for dozens of 6G research projects, and more recently India’s PM, Narendra Modi shared a roadmap to launch 6G in the country by 2030. 

And now… let’s dream

2030 is a long way off, but that doesn't mean we can’t take a sneak peek to see what 6G might offer in the coming decades. The promises of 6G  – most importantly, greater bandwidth and faster speeds – will undoubtedly play a role in advancing applications that are enabled by 5G today. As easy it is to get carried away with promises of lightning fast download speeds, the measure that will really matter to users is their actual network experience. 

Many are looking forward to higher capacity, lower latency and much faster speeds than 5G is capable of today. The combination of these will enable greater interaction between devices, creating a smart ecosystem we have been exploring in the past years, but on a much wider scale: unlocking even greater potential for smart cities, agriculture, or healthcare for example. It will also bring in a new era of consumer applications that 4G made possible and then 5G elevated: VR and AR, IoT advancements, possibilities with edge computing and AI. During a panel discussion at MWC 2023 on 6G spectrum moderated by our VP Analysis, Ian Fogg, we heard from industry experts listing a wide array of use cases including XR, consistency of experience, cloud gaming, sensing, and video streaming in 8K or 16K resolutions. 

Meanwhile, there may be applications we haven’t even considered yet, areas that will surface once we can experiment with the technical capabilities 6G is promising to provide. Wherever you fall on the optimist to cynic spectrum, we can all agree it’s just the beginning of the 6G story. One thing we can be sure of, it will bring change, and Opensignal will be here to reveal the truth about how it impacts the real user experience.