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The next generation of mobile communication technology is already on the horizon. The sixth generation of the internet, 6G for short, is in the works. Although this technology isn’t yet a reality, development on 6G is already moving forward.
It may feel like we’ve just begun to grasp the difference of 5G vs. 4G and what that means for our daily life. 5G significantly improved speeds and low latency, making streaming, downloading, and mobile communication faster and more efficient. That’s exactly the plan for 6G.
Upgrading speeds and reducing wait times in data transmission isn’t the only goal of 6G. Creating more global coverage through an integrated space-air-ground-sea network has the potential to allow researchers and technologists the ability to gain a deeper understanding of our planet. 6G will allow these researchers to bring more high-tech machinery into previously unexplored areas.
Additionally, bringing 6G into the consumer market allows current 5G products to run more efficiently. 6G will run on a higher frequency on the radio spectrum. Couple that with the advances in wireless sensing technology and AI integration, and the technology we enjoy will find more efficient ways to work for us.
Let’s explore in more detail what we know about 6G, what it may look like, and when to expect it.
When to expect 6G
How 6G might work
Possible impacts of 6G
5G vs. 6G
What we know about 6G
On a global scale, several billion dollars have already been allocated to the building of the next generation of the internet. Plans began in 2020 as companies raced to the patent offices to register their ideas. The goal for 6G networks isn’t just improved speeds and computing power, but to bring internet connectivity to spaces it wasn’t available previously. Think of high-speed Wi-Fi in airplanes or in deep-sea vehicles.
Currently, Huawei China, a global tech giant, is leading the development of these new technologies. China has already launched a satellite developed exclusively for 6G research. There are also companies in Japan, South Korea, Germany, and other countries at the forefront of technology development, including NTT Docomo, Samsung, Ericsson, Nokia, and LG.
As mentioned, 6G will run on higher frequencies than its predecessors. This was made possible in 2019 when the Federal Communications Commission allowed companies to begin experimenting with terahertz (THz) waves. Terahertz waves are radio frequency bands that fall in the spectrum of 95 GHz to 3 THz and can help with congestion and bandwidth limitations.
Although many of the technologies and hardware needs for 6G have yet to be invented, the next generation of the internet isn’t completely theoretical. Because of the advancements made by independent companies in the past three years, we’re already on our way to advanced technology.
It’s impossible to say definitively what data rates will look like for 6G, but early estimations by theorists such as Mahyar Shirvanimoghaddam, Ph.D., senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, say that up to 1 terabyte of data per second may be achievable. Additionally, the goal of 1 microsecond of latency would mean nearly imperceptible instantaneous data transmission. To put it plainly, 6G internet can send a lot of data with a lag time so small you won’t even notice.
Earlier we discussed terahertz waves helping with congestion and bandwidth limitations. Have you ever tried to call someone at midnight on New Year’s Eve and not been able to connect on the first attempt? The network is congested from such high use. Lots of people are calling their loved ones, so they inundate the radio waves used to transmit the call. There isn’t room for everyone.
Fast broadband internet and mobile network speeds aren't the only promise of 6G. Improved security, advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, more efficient edge computing, development of wireless sensing technologies, and decreased cost of networking equipment all sit within the promise of 6G.
Possible 6G devices and uses
With the actual application of 6G wireless technology still several years away, we can only speculate as to what 6G will be able to do. Here are some ideas and wish list items.
- Global intelligence technology
- Wireless touch-free air charging for devices
- 4D mapping
- Wireless projected monitors
- Automated electric vehicles with the ability to wirelessly charge
- Improved healthcare with air quality monitoring and gas and toxicity sensing
- Wi-Fi implants
- Augmented reality capabilities
- Automated medical prosthetic devices
- The next (tech-driven) industrial revolution
According to the Next G Alliance , other possible 6G applications include:
- Automation solutions for deliveries, rescue, and hazard control
- Faster delivery of time-critical wireless communications
- Ultra-high-resolution entertainment content
- More efficient food production and crop management
- Immersive and adaptive learning environments
- More efficient disaster and hazard sensors and alerts
When to expect 6G
Current estimations put 6G technology in the hands of consumers around the year 2030 but as late as 2035. This might seem like a long way off, but there are huge advancements that need to be made before this technology becomes widespread.
Start first by thinking about our current 5G and 5G+ technologies. There are places in the world where internet connectivity is still in its infancy or completely unavailable, much less our current 5G+ upgrade. In fact, 5G isn’t available throughout the U.S. yet. Depending on your carrier, you may not have the ability to access our current technology for a while.
This inequality in the distribution and global standards of 5G is one of the major changes needed before 6G technology is able to become functional. Global integration needs to be a reality if 6G ever wants to be one of its own. This requires cooperative research and collaborations between companies and nations.
Significant advancements in the evolution of engineering are also necessary to achieve 6G. The next generation of the internet also requires the next generation of engineers who have multidisciplinary skills and education. These engineers will be solving problems and building hardware and infrastructure to receive and transmit new technologies.
Cybersecurity will need to leap forward as well. The new challenges that will present themselves with the advent of 6G will also present a new host of cybersecurity challenges. We’re currently fighting a war on ransomware and data theft. Solving these problems and anticipating the new ones that come with advancements in technology will need to be addressed before a functional 6G is released to the public.
How 6G might work
So how does all this technology work? At a base level, the theories behind 6G are that we will be able to not only receive but transmit signals making us one interconnected blanket of internet access. This means every internet-connected device will essentially be part of a giant mesh network creating unending Wi-Fi connections.
Amazon is already testing out this technology with its Echo devices in a program called Amazon Sidewalk. Essentially, it takes your Echo devices and allows people to borrow your bandwidth even if they don’t have access to your network. This is where advancements in cybersecurity will be crucial.
Possible impacts of 6G
Although it might feel like a lot of work, international cooperation, and technological advancements for faster internet, there are yet-to-be-realized benefits to the technology of 6G.
Imagine a med student graduating with their degree having already logged more than 100 hours of virtually simulated heart surgeries with endless possible complications already presented to them. Or think about a combat veteran who lost both legs being able to take a yoga class with their new robotic limbs that transmit the signals from their brain to the 6G powered prosthetics that were 3D printed for them at the hospital.
And don’t forget about 6G’s potential impact on the internet of things (IoT). Consider air quality recognition that detects when a person is sick and alerts them and medical professionals so they get quality care as well as quarantining to stop the spread of deadly viruses.
Stepping away from health care, there is the possibility of having wireless, touch-free charging for devices. Think about your cell phone in your pocket having to never touch a wireless charge pad or plug into a frayed cord because it’ll be charged constantly. A faculty member at Virginia Tech, Walid Saad, even predicts we’ll give up mobile phones completely, opting instead for wearable mobile devices able to “take direct sensory inputs from human senses.”
We’ll also eliminate the need for time or space restraints. Living in a rural area and working in an urban setting can be done through virtual reality. And with the speed and technology projected with 6G, that work can be achieved in real-time and without the limitations of commuting. The availability of information will be able to reach even the most remote regions.
Of course, there’s always the negative aspects of advanced technology. With the increased use of terahertz, we also increase the potential for ionized radiofrequency radiation. Radio waves begin to ionize at 2.4 million gigahertz. That ionized radiation has the potential to knock electrons out of atoms, which can lead to cancer as well as other health problems.
Stepping away from the health ramifications, there’s always the gatekeeping that happens when one corporation or nation invents something everyone else wants. Without proper diplomacy and cooperation, 6G possibilities could be heavily argued over.
There’s also the environmental impact to consider. The building of the materials and infrastructures necessary to make blanket 6G capabilities necessary will require increased resources. Our already strained infrastructures and manufacturing systems will need to find cleaner ways to operate so as not to negatively impact the environment.
5G vs. 6G
The biggest difference will be between speed and latency. We can see the differences between 4G and 4G LTE and 5G now. Streaming, video calls, download speeds, and more are all affected by the increase in speed we have with 5G networks. This will explode ahead if 6G works the way it’s theorized to once all the technologies are in place.
Bandwidth is how much space is available on a given device. Have you ever noticed you can stream a movie on your TV easily if that’s the only thing playing? Depending on the bandwidth you pay for with your internet, you may have limited ability to use multiple internet-connected devices all at once.
Try streaming an HD movie on your TV while playing a high-resolution game on your phone. As you’re doing that, open your laptop and mobile tablet and really work them with heavy hitters such as 4K movies and games with intricate graphics. If everything slows, buffers, or stops, you’re seeing bandwidth being taken up by the heavy usage you’re putting on your modem and routers. If you find your capabilities lacking, check out how to speed up your internet.
Samsung has already been able to test 6G speeds at 50 times the amount of current 5G capabilities. With this kind of speed and increased bandwidth capabilities of transmitting at a higher frequency, leaps ahead in advancements will be possible.
Unfortunately, with most of 6G’s capabilities being theoretical, it’s impossible to give a resolute answer to what we’ll be capable of once it’s deployed. Understanding how 6G will work and building on the technology we have now means we can imagine a whole new world of our own design.
What does 6G stand for?
6G stands for 6th Generation. Literally meaning it’s the sixth evolution of the internet.
Is 6G safe?
Maybe. Ionization of radio frequencies affects our cells if done in too high a concentration. We’ll need to monitor how high 6G goes and advocate to make sure it stays at safe levels.
Why do we need 6G?
In addition to faster speeds and cool new tech, 6G can revolutionize health care and safety greatly improving the quality of life for many people around the globe.
6G is the sixth generation of internet and mobile communication technology. Its development is already underway, and it is expected to significantly improve speeds and latency, as well as provide more global coverage through an integrated space-air-ground-sea network. This could allow researchers and technologists to gain a deeper understanding of the planet by bringing more high-tech machinery into previously unexplored areas.
6G will run on higher frequencies on the radio spectrum, using terahertz waves (radio bands that fall in the spectrum of 95 GHz to 3 THz). Early estimates predict that 6G will be able to transmit up to 1 terabyte of data per second with a latency of 1 microsecond. It is expected to be able to handle large amounts of data with almost imperceptible lag time. 6G is also expected to use advanced technologies such as wireless sensing and AI integration. Although the exact timeline for the rollout of 6G is not yet known, it is expected to be available in the next decade.
The integration of the technology with human understanding has the potential to improve health care, quality of life, and understanding around the planet and possibly beyond.