Even before the ink has dried on the latest specifications for 5G, international groups and organisations are gathering, organising summits and holding meetings to discuss and identify a network technology that will be suitable for the 2030s; 6G. So, what could they possibly be discussing and talking about regarding Network 2030?
It is envisioned that 6G will be more holistic and more inclusive for the wider community. Globally, there are a number of technological shortcomings in many areas that 6G can help overcome. Examples of these shortfalls are ubiquity and automation.
6G Use Cases
There are several use cases that 6G will look to facilitate, ranging from holographic type communications to the Internet of Everything.
- Holographic Type Communications (HTC) – HTC will allow remote users to be projected as a 3D holographic presence in a separate site, in real time. Uses for this are wide and varied, ranging from remote troubleshooting and repair applications, training and education, real-time communication, messaging, immersive gaming and entertainment.
- Multi-sensed communication services – this will be supported by 6G, facilitating the introduction of haptic communication and enabling users to experience real-time interactive, multisensory communication (hear, see, taste, smell, and touch).
- Extended Reality (XR) – an advancement on Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR). It will utilise 3D objects and Artificial Intelligence (AI), combining real and virtual environments.
- Automation – the superior features that 6G will provide will enable the accelerated development of a smart society. This will be further enhanced through the utilization of network intelligence, machine learning and AI. 6G will assist with connected robots and autonomous systems, along with AI based full automation.
- Internet of everything – this will be a holistic system with network intelligence used by smart societies, cars, health and industries. This builds on the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) and be provided through seamless integration and autonomous coordination. It sees the intelligent connection of people, process, data and things, whereby IoT relates to just things.
Building on the advanced performance characteristics of 5G, there are numerous areas where further enhancements will be seen in 6G:
- Data rates – peak data rates are forecast to be in the region of 1TBps, 5G is 20Gbps.
- Latency – 0.1ms, compared to 1ms latency for 5G.
- Connection density – 100 devices per metre cubed.
- Network efficiency – 10 x more efficient when compared to 5G. Equating to 100x when compared to 4G.
Work continues with regards to 3GPP 5G related releases providing further enhancements and study items. Release 17 activity is forecast to be frozen by 2022. The ITU Focus Group for Network 2030 has been established since 2018 and is heading into 2020 with its sixth meeting already planned for January. The first 6G related 3GPP specifications are forecast to be frozen in 2027. Based on this, we can expect 6G networks and systems to become available around 2029. It is highly likely that the detail regarding 6G will continue to be laid down in subsequent releases after its initial release, this is something we have seen historically with LTE and also with 5G.
Challenges for 6G
6G will not be without its own challenges. These will include hardware and software challenges. How services and networks interact is a key area for development. Operating in higher frequency ranges (THz and above) will require more advanced techniques and technology to be introduced in 6G. Network challenges will also be present, especially with regards to the delivery of holographic and multi-sense media and communication, as well as decentralization and security. In addition to this, automated and autonomous systems and devices will require precise timing in order to function as designed, requiring new approaches in network design and functionality. In general, the technology needed to meet the performance and capabilities of 6G has, in some areas, yet to become available presenting a significant hurdle.
6G appears to be light years away from where we are currently, but the same could have been said about 5G in 2010. In order to make the step towards making 6G a reality, a number of use cases and performance characteristics are starting to be identified by the ITU Network 2030 Focus Group.
Historically, every ten years mobile technology evolution makes huge steps forward. In line with this, it is believed that 6G standards will start to be seen in the next 7 years or so, with the technology itself starting to become a reality in 2030 and beyond. Finally, as with all mobile technology variants that have gone before 6G will not be without its own challenges, be that hardware or software related.