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As society continues to transform, there will be challenges that 5G will be unable to meet. By 2030, we will have been shaped by 5G for 10 years. Lessons will have been learned from its deployment, and new needs and services will emerge despite its flexibility. This calls for further evolution: the new 6G era.

6G or the sixth-generation wireless, is the successor to 5G cellular technology. With 6G you’ll be able to connect to everything from household appliances to smart devices – access to the entirety of the latest technology without sacrificing coverage. As compared to 5G, these 6G networks will be able to operate at higher frequencies and provide a much higher capacity and significantly lower latency. One of the goals of the 6G internet will be to support one-microsecond latency communications, 1,000 times faster than one-millisecond throughput.

What are the advantages of 6G vs 5G?

6G networks will operate by using signals at the higher end of the radio spectrum. Although it is too early to estimate 6G data rates, Dr. Mahyar Shirvanimoghaddam, senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, suggested that wireless data could, in theory, reach a peak rate of 1 terabyte per second. That estimate applies to data transmitted in short bursts across limited distances.

This level of capacity and latency will extend the performance of 5G applications. In addition, it will enable new and innovative applications in wireless connectivity, cognition, sensing and imaging. By using orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA), 6G access points can serve multiple clients simultaneously. Also, 6G's higher frequencies will enable much faster sampling rates than with 5G. They will provide significantly better throughput and higher data rates as well. In order to develop wireless sensing technology, sub-mm waves – wavelengths less than 1 millimeter – and frequency selectivity will be used.

Edge computing will be integrated into all 6G networks, unlike 5G networks which must be added later. When 6G networks are deployed, edge computing and core computing will become more integrated as part of a combined communications and computation infrastructure framework. As 6G technology becomes operational, this approach will provide many potential benefits, such as improved AI capabilities and support for sophisticated mobile devices.

Challenges for the 6G Era

Four main drivers with corresponding challenges are emerging for the 6G era:

  • Trustworthiness: trusted communication and computing for a society and its industries relying on critical information

Sustainability: communication and networks enabling sustainable development

  • Simplified living: massive uses of AI and accelerated automatization across systems for optimal assistance and efficiency
  • Meeting the demands: limitless and extreme performance connectivity for intensifying communication anywhere, anytime and for anything

In order to meet these future challenges, 6G must advance beyond 5G's technical limitations, and move towards critical services, immersive communication and ubiquitous IoT.

Features of Tomorrow’s 6G Networks

Despite all new technologies, the hunger for bandwidth remains insatiable. An additional and formidable demand is for increasingly lower latencies, especially in industrial settings, where it becomes a critical requirement for keeping operations on track. This is why the sector has started to prepare for the next step: introducing the sixth generation of mobile networks (6G). To this end, international 6G standards are still in development.

  • 100 gigabits per second (Gbps): What everyone needs is speed. What is key for people is to be able to access their downloads anytime from anywhere, and to watch videos in the highest possible resolution. 6G networks will continue to build on that necessity, featuring a projected download speed of no less than 100Gbps. That is ten times faster than the (theoretical) download speed of a 5G network and 300 times faster than what today’s most advanced 4G networks can accommodate.
  • Frequencies of 100GHz: The higher the frequency, the more available the bandwidth, and to achieve this, tapping into higher radio frequencies is needed. As an example, 4G networks operate at frequencies up to 2.5GHz, while 5G networks use 28GHz and 39GHz frequencies. Mobile networks of the next generation, including 6G, are expected to operate at frequencies above 100GHz.
  • A quick latency: People’s mobile experiences depend on more than the amount of data that they can quickly download. The network’s latency is an important factor. Admittedly, the introduction of 5G networks, and their latency of less than 1 millisecond, should already put an end to such hiccups. Still, 6G proposes an even more improved latency of just a few microseconds, a speed that will particularly be necessary to support the growing number of Internet of Things (IoT) applications.
  • Ten million connected devices per km²: The power of the IoT is determined by the number of connected sensors and devices. Here as well, an enormous growth is projected. According to Statista, by 2025 the IoT will consist of nearly 31 billion devices, compared with 12 to 13 billion devices today. With this ever-increasing number of devices comes the challenge of connecting as many as possible to the Internet; this number is referred to as the connection density. And with the introduction of 6G networks, the figure of 10 million connected devices per km² comes well within reach.
  • An energy consumption of less than 1 nanojoule/bit: 6G networks will have to resort to higher radio frequencies to support the need for higher bandwidths. But one of the problems is that the underlying (chip) technology is not (yet) able to operate in those frequency bands in an energy-efficient manner. Indeed, energy efficiency is one of the telecom industry’s main challenges. For 6G, researchers have set the goal of reducing its energy consumption to less than 1 nanojoule/ bit.

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.

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