With every country in the world pushing efforts and leveraging technology to join the next generation of internet connection, 2018 and 2019 may very well be the last years for 4G. Mobile World Congress 2018 has everyone literally abuzz about the most recent mobile connectivity technology called the 5G. Well, the fifth-generation connection is yet to launch in many countries, but questions have been raised, and insights have been thrown concerning the following generation of connectivity – 6G.
The competition for 5G is fierce on the global stage, and its international activity is growing a fever pitch, part of which is harbingered by vendors and ISPs in tech-focused countries looking to test the emerging broadband with friendly users. South Korea, China, Japan, and the United States are regarded as the top countries to launch 5G first, while other countries are still bracing to get ready for their big debuts. According to a WeeTracker coverage, Nigeria’s 5G adoption should be rolled out in 2020, and other African countries pretty much have their minds set on the same year, with few scheming to join the train by 2022 fully. With these facts in hand, it is safe to say that no country has 5G yet, as lots of tests are still taking place in individual regions across the world.
Nokia and Ericsson are the top European providers of the 5G infrastructure, and the former has shown substantial progress in the oil-rich Arab world and China. Ironically, these two have Chinese Competitors called Huawei, which is more successful in other regions. Currently, two major global organisations are writing the standards that would give 5G a definition – the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). In unison, they are putting two and two together to achieve a timeline set by the ITU to fix standards in place by 2020, while most mobile network providers are expecting 5G serviced to be publicly available. So, 5G is still in the pipeline, but will there be a 6G?
Technologists at Finland’s University of Oulu are already beginning to figure out the sixth-generation internet connection, and the Academy of Finland in April announced the funding of 6Genesis – an eight-year research program that will conceptualise 6G under the auspices of the Oulu Center for Wireless Communications. Oulu is a city in Northern Finland thought to be a major hotspot for 5G development (no pun intended). Being one of the major hubs for this technology, the city has been profiled as a startup and hackathon cluster in some reports.
In a paper which proposed 6Genesis, Director Matti Latva-aho explained that a new mobile generation seems to roll out every 10 years. With this apparent trend, the body predicts that 6G will emerge sometime around 2030 to satisfy the come-short expectations of the emerging 5G, as well as a new one that will be defined much later. This team of technologists envision the 2030 society to be one driven by data, enabled by near-instant, unlimited wireless connectivity. In an interview with CWC, Latva-aho announced that the new network would entail distributed computing and intelligence alongside high-frequency materials and antenna. This, in an opinion, translates to radio oriented research towards the THz range and applications inspired by artificial intelligence.
According to a report, 5G may be a disappointment in many aspects, but the following generation of connectivity will have frequencies up to terahertz which will be needed for true microsecond latency and unlimited bandwidth. 5G developers have opinionated that the initial upcoming 5G network technologies may not afford substantial reliability gains over the existing wireless such as 4G LTE. Also, the millisecond levels of latency that the new 5G adoption will offer at attempt my falter as it is not going to be so much of an upper-hand for a society that now entirely lives and breathes on data.
According to Ari Pouttu, who is the Professor for Dependable Wireless at the University of Oulu, 5G’s principal benefits over the current wireless platforms are advertised to reduce latency and improve reliability by marketers who pitch the yet-to-be-rolled-out technology. The problem with 5G in Pouttu’s opinion is that its millisecond latency won’t simply be sufficient, despite it being better than its predecessor 4G. I have come to understand that one of the issues fifth-generation connection will encounter will be related to the required scalability. As Pouttu said, 5G’s network stack is going to run on a non-traditional, software-defined radio, which is a method inherently introducing network shutdown.
The 6Geneis program research, alongside that of United States’ Center for Converging Terahertz Communications and Sensing (ComSenTer), reveal that frequencies from 100 GHz up to terahertz are ideal. Frequency bands in such a spectrum will be in tens of gigahertz, meaning that it will roll out bandwidth levels with no equal and do so inconceivably, virtually unlimited amounts. According to Pouttu, we will equally start observing more of a new form of computing called Mobile Edge or Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) to handle 5G as it metamorphoses into 6G. This is rudimentarily a network architecture where heavy processing takes place close to people on server-cum-base-stations. Nonetheless, most of the final work, including AI and problem modelling, happens in the mobile device or IoT device somewhere in the network environment. The algorithm’s connection, as Pouttu puts it, need a trusted, low-latency and high-bandwidth application – and that’s where 6G comes in.
Pouttu and his team intend to kick-off with the theoretical 802.15.3D IEEE standard, which uses low sub-terahertz frequency spectrum between 252GHz and 325GHz. It is still a paper concept which academics will try to apply it into personal health, eco-energy, and autonomous verticals. 6G, which is also called 5G Long Term Evolution has been promised funding equivalent to USD 290 Mn that would be provided by the Finnish government’s Academy of Finland, alongside other sources and partners. The program, which will run for eight years, will be carried out in partnership with Nokia, Business Oulu and a host of other tech-driven universities.
This Finnish body is not the only one with 6G interest, as China is also starting to make strides to make do with some internet connections upgrades. Su Xin, head of 5G technology working group at China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, announced that the country is starting research into 6G concepts this year. While the company began looking into it in March, the publication was made in April, making China one of the first countries to do so.
According to Su, the actual development of 6G will begin officially in 2020, but commercial use will likely have to wait until 2030. As much as 5G is expected to enhance communications between Internet of Things devices and enable us connected with machines, 6G will blow it out of the water by making mobile internet speed of 1 Tb per second mainstream. In the real sense, the sixth-generation internet connection will let you download around 100 movies in a matter of seconds. While it is worth noting that researchers at the University of Surrey in England have achieved this already with 5G, the success was recorded only within the confines of a lab. Su tells us that 6G will more efficiently connect our devices and expands internet coverage to much broader areas.
In accordance with Su’s position, 5G, despite having three applications – large bandwidth, low latency, and wide connection – will be offset by 6G which will be able to achieve better use in all three scenarios, while increasing transmission rates by more than 10 times and revolutionize the whole wired and wireless network structure. 6G sounds vague because there isn’t yet a concrete definition for the technology. It may be too early to talk about it, given that 5G took a decade to develop its set of standards which haven’t yet been be fully settled despite its set of commercial deployments.
Roberto Saracco, a professor at the University of Trento in Italy, is of the opinion that 5G is still a fuzzy set of promises that will take time as much as 10 years before entirely fulfilled. But as soon as 5G is fully rolled out, researchers will need a term to mark the novelty to put techs that don’t fit into 5G standards into a different box – hence 6G. While people are still asking of 6G is hot air or real stuff, countries such as China and Finland are not letting the vagueness stop them. It is reported that China has spent USD 24 Bn more than the United States in wireless communications infrastructure and looks to pump in more than USD 400 Bn. While the United States has built 30,000 tower sites, China already has 350,000. All these are investments are in a fifth-generation wireless connection that is yet to be actualised, not to mention the enormous interest in the succeeding generation.
As far has it has to do with mobile and wireless computing, humans, like toddlers, are always demanding more: more speed, bandwidth, and ubiquitous connectivity. The term “continuous computing has been bandied about for decades, and 5G marks the first actualisation of the idea. With the enormous potential of our mobile – augmented reality, artificial intelligence, wearable computers, autonomous driving, virtual reality, machine learning and Internet of Things – much more remains untapped, and only by looking ahead to 6G we get a glimpse of what is possible between the next one to two decades. While 5G is yet to be born, Google Trends rates that the term “6G” is the 17th most searched word in search engines.
In generations beyond 5G, network operators will be connected to a single core, and when combined with AI, this core will transform the mobile and wireless service that currently exists. The telecommunication satellite will likely be used for voice and multimedia communications, and the navigational satellite will be the bedrock of global positioning systems (GPS). The earth imaging satellites will rollout close current weather updates and help humans earlier detects natural disasters and aid preparedness.
Needless to say is that this 6G should have no issue whatsoever regarding data capacity coverage or bandwidth – no matter what. It should see spheres such as healthcare; remote diagnostics from doctors to patients (even in rural regions) get easier and in equal measure promote remote learning and education through mobile devices. For the fact that 6G wireless networks would be integrating satellites for global coverage, there should be less – and even no – mobile network dead spots. So whether you live in the jungle, high up a secluded mountain or in a tree house in the city’s outskirts, you will still be able to afford the perky, fantastic coverage as those living near the cellular towers – which is the real bridge to the digital divide.
Feature image courtesy: PCMag.com