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Why Is Now A Good Time to Talk about 6G?

If there was a list of the most popular technologies in 2020, 5G would definitely rank high on it. In fact, in many countries, 5G has been commercially ready and started to show its preliminary effects on real life. But while most are still busy building their 5G networks, some have already turned their attention (at least part of the attention) to 6G. In this article, we will explain the reasons behind such move, and at the same time show you some imaginations about 6G from leading companies such as Ericsson, Samsung and so on.

Why should we care about 6G now?

Although 5G seems to appear recently, the technology can actually be traced back to 2012 – it’s just that the relevant discussion was limited within the technicians’ circle since 5G’s applications were still unclear at that time. As a matter of fact, there is an empirical rule stating that each generation of telecommunication took about 10 years to mature. In this regard, now is a great time to research on the technical parts of 6G, and we should have that technology in our daily lives around 2030.

Another reason, and perhaps more important one, for 6G to trigger so many discussions in such an early phase has something to do with how 5G network is built. First, 5G adopts a new architecture known as software-defined networking (SDN), which makes the system extremely agile and can quickly adapt to new functions or features, including 6G. Also, some technologies used in 5G may also be used in 6G. Therefore, if designed carefully, the 5G infrastructure today should be (at least partially) applied to 6G as well. The reasons said make the considerations of 6G’s applications not only reasonable but also necessary since we may want to plan it as soon as possible while 5G network is still under construction.

Imagining the Capabilities of 6G

According to the 6G whitepaper released by Samsung, 6G networks should have the following advantages over 5G:

Figure 1. The performance requirements of 6G according to Samsung (the figure is adapted from Samsung’s 6G whitepaper).

As one can see, the new 6G technology should be far more powerful than 5G. For data transmission, while the peak data rate of 5G is 100 Gbps, 6G’s can reach to 1,000 Gbps. And while 5G’s latency is about 1 ms, 6G’s is as low as 0.1 ms. Such extreme data transfer performance is most likely realized by the use of the terahertz (THz) frequency band (from 0.1 to 10 THz), whose wavelength (0.1-1 mm) is significantly shorter than 5G’s mmWave (millimeter wave; 1-10 mm).

As one knows, the higher a wave’s frequency is, the more likely it will be blocked by obstacles such as a wall (i.e., penetrability is low). So, in theory, 6G should require even more towers than 5G. Therefore, one of the most critical topics in today 6G research is to find methods to transmit data in terahertz while avoiding covering our cities with cell towers.

6G network is also expected to be more sustainable than 5G since the former should have higher energy efficiency (defined by the amount of data the network can transmit per unit of energy). According to some estimation, the energy efficiency of 5G is circa 100 bits/J, while 6G’s will be about 200 bits/J, and the use of artificial intelligence may further optimize the number.

While not shown in above figure from Samsung’s whitepaper, another distinctive feature about 6G is its coverage. Ideally, 6G signals can reach to every corner on Earth, including those where building cell towers is impractical (e.g., on the ocean). In these no-tower scenarios, telecommunication can be supported by techniques such as low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.

Finally, since 6G is expected to connect significantly more devices together (> trillions of devices according to Ericsson’s estimation) than 5G, it can bring us closer to IoE (internet of everything) than ever before. However, this will require 6G network to be ultra-secured. Otherwise, IoE will be a total nightmare rather than a blessing.

To summarize, it’s interesting to know that Spectacular Company Ltd. has summed up the capabilities said into four major characteristics of 6G, which is known as 6G 4U (pronounced like “6G for you”): Ultimate reliable broadband, Ubiquitous user experience, Unique massive-intelligence and Ultra secure communication.

Imagining the Applications of 6G

Most people may ask: Why do we need 6G while 5G has already been so powerful? We are now answering the question with some examples of possible 6G applications.

  • Full coverage enables true remote experiences:

Due to COVID-19, people are more and more used to do things remotely, and concepts such as remote working and telemedicine can gradually become mainstream in the near future. But for that to happen, extreme reliability and coverage are indispensable so that people can connect and share data with each other from literally anywhere in the world with no error and latency. Although 5G does provide highly reliable communication and very low latency, it’s not enough to realize full coverage; to make it happen, 6G (techniques beyond 5G’s framework) is indeed necessary.

  • Internet of senses and ultimate virtualization:

Virtualization plays a very crucial role in today consumers’ shopping experience, and its importance is anticipated to increase even more in the foreseeable future. In fact, many people believe that VR or AR shopping will become a trend by 2030. More importantly, the VR and AR in the future can not only provide virtual vision but other virtual senses as well, eventually forming the “internet of senses (a concept proposed by Ericsson)”.

To achieve this, however, require a lot of data to be transmitted from the seller’s ends to the clients, and 6G may be necessary to handle such massive data within a reasonable amount of time.

  • Building AI network to boost machine intelligence:

Today AI systems are mostly narrow AI, which means that they can only perform one specific task. By connecting each narrow AI together, nonetheless, it’s possible to make them more intelligent as a whole since they can now share their own expertise with others. In this regard, today AI is as a certain functional region in our brain (e.g., a face-recognizing AI is like the fusiform face area of our cerebrum); by allowing them to communicate, it’s just possible for them to move towards to the idea of a strong AI system. Considering that 6G enables a notable number of devices to connect, it becomes a very, if not the most, appropriate technology to realize the AI network said.

Conclusions: Telecommunication enables the future!

According to the timeline summarized by Samsung, it took about 15 years to progress from 2G to 3G, 12 years from 3G to 4G, and 8 years from 4G to 5G (Figure 2). As one can see, generations of telecommunication evolves faster and faster. With that trend in mind, it’s even possible that 6G will be ready in about 5 to 8 years.

Figure 2. Timeline of different generations from Samsung’s 6G whitepaper.

Some may be wondering: Why putting so many efforts on developing the next generation? A short answer to the question is that telecommunication is the foundation of most, if not all, technologies (e.g., AI, IoT, cloud / edge computing, etc.) since data exchange is necessary for their functioning. Thus, by improving the performance of telecommunication, one can significantly improve the power of other technologies as well.

Of course, the new generation of telecommunication has its own concerns (such as health issues, security concerns, etc.). However, nothing good comes without pain. The potential values that 6G can bring to us are enormous; to enjoy such benefits, we believe now is indeed a perfect time to talk about 6G.

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