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What is 6G and how does it differ from 5G technology?

What is 6G and how does it differ from 5G technology?
Photo Credit: Pixabay
31 Aug, 2022
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With the conclusion of the fifth-generation (5G) spectrum auction earlier this month, India is set to roll out the first phase of 5G services later this year. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shed light on sixth-generation wireless (6G) plans for the country. Last week, at the Grand Finale of an event called the Smart India Hackathon 2022, the PM announced that the government is preparing to launch “6G by the end of this decade.” 

But what exactly is 6G?

As the name suggests, 6G is the successor to 5G cellular technology. 6G networks supposedly use higher frequencies than 5G networks and provide substantially higher bandwidth and lower latency. Latency is the time taken by a data to travel from a source to the end user, while bandwidth is the amount of data that can travel over the network at a time.

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While 5G aims to deliver 1ms latencies, 6G internet aims to support one microsecond latency communications. One microsecond is 1/1000th of a millisecond. 

According to Mahyar Shirvanimoghaddam, a wireless communications expert at the University of Sydney, “6G speeds could reach 1 terabyte (TB) per second — that’s 8,000 times faster than 5G.” 

How is 6G different from its predecessor 5G?

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5G and 6G both use wireless spectrum — the data-bearing frequencies that enable wireless communications — of higher range as compared to 4G, 3G, and 2G networks. 

However, even between 5G and 6G, the former is allocated for low-band and high-band frequencies — sub-6 GHz (Gigahertz) and above 24.25 GHz respectively. 6G, on the other hand, uses 95GHz to 3 terahertz frequencies.

On paper, 6G will provide higher performance than the newly deployed 5G networks. It is expected to deliver a peak data rate of 1,000 gigabits/second. In terms of network speed, 6G speed is expected to be 100 times faster than 5G.

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Why do we need 6G?

With 5G bringing significant performance improvements in speed, capacity and latency, one may wonder why we need 6G in the first place. Experts believe that 6G will drive the adoption of 5G use cases at scale through optimisations and cost-reduction, especially at the enterprise level. Besides, it will enable new use cases by bringing together the human, physical, and virtual environments, as Harish Viswanathan, Head of Radio Systems Research at Nokia Bell Labs said

The Next G Alliance, an initiative to advance wireless technology in the U.S, believes that 6G and 5G will coexist for a long period of time, as future 6G systems will be an evolution of 5G and not a replacement technology.

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Why is 2030 an important year for 6G?

Typically, it takes around ten years from early research to commercialisation of new cellular systems. Talks about 6G actually started long before 5G even came into existence. As a result, the first 6G networks are expected to be deployed by 2030. 

By this stage, 5G and its advanced technologies will have matured, and will serve as the communication and information backbone supporting the daily needs of people, enterprises and intelligent machines.

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What are the perceived technology risks with regard to 6G?

Data processing, threat detection, traffic analysis, and data encryption are considered the most critical issues in 6G networks. Experts, however, think that the security issues due to massive traffic processing can be solved using decentralised security systems, in which the traffic can be handled dynamically and locally.

The advent of 6G technologies will also require massive expansions of the regulatory structure around wireless spectrum.

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What could be 6G’s use cases in the future? 

While 6G can boast of a plethora of use cases, many are yet to emerge as we move closer to 2030. By the time we get to 6G, there will be requirements to support trillions of embeddable devices and provide trustworthy connections that are available everywhere.

6G will have big implications for many government and industry approaches to public safety and critical asset protection, such as threat detection, health monitoring, facial recognition, decision-making in areas like law enforcement and social credit systems, besides, air quality measurements and weather monitoring and sensory interfaces that feel like real life.

Who is working on 6G?

It is important to note that 6G is not yet a functioning technology. While some vendors are investing in the next-generation wireless standard, industry specifications for 6G-enabled network products remain years away. 

The Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology has reportedly launched preparatory work on 6G networks. Many other organisations and universities are also showing interest and involving themselves in researching 6G. 

For instance, the University of Aveiro released a whitepaper on 2019, called Why 6G? that discusses the driving forces behind the development of new network.

Further, in April 2019, SK Telecom, a South Korean telecom organisation signed agreements with Ericsson, Samsung and Nokia to conduct research and development in 6G mobile network technology jointly.

The University of Oulu in Finland has launched the 6Genesis research project to develop a 6G vision for 2030. The university has also signed a collaboration agreement with Japan’s Beyond 5G Promotion Consortium to coordinate the work of the Finnish 6G Flagship research on 6G technologies.

Korean tech company, LG Electronics has also set up a research centre to facilitate next-generation 6G networks and create new business opportunities.

Finally, in August 2022, India and Australia said they will work together in framing an ethical regulatory framework for 6G technology. The partnership is considered to be imperative for ensuring an open, safe, and resilient cyberspace in the Indo-Pacific region.