The next big thing in telecommunications is 5G – but what comes after it? If it’s the moniker chosen for next generation connectivity, 6G will eventually replace 5G, but industry experts warn that 6G is not yet a functioning technology.
According to Luke Mc Donnell, senior corporate communications manager at Huawei Ireland, 6G is at least a decade away. “Every decade in modern history has brought a new generation of mobile communications technology, so we expect 6G to hit the market by around 2030.”
Research initiatives into 6G have become more popular, with governments around the world beginning to explore its possibilities, keen to pull ahead of rivals. China has reportedly already put a 6G satellite into orbit, while Japan has invested almost $500 million into making 6G a reality in the coming years.
In Europe the 6G Flagship project based in Finland is working to combine research on 6G technologies, saying its vision is of a society that is “data-driven, enabled by near-instant, unlimited wireless connectivity”.
Exactly what shape 6G will take, however, remains largely unclear, says McDonnell, who explains that the mobile communications industry is still trying to tease this out. “We still cannot say exactly what 6G will look like. As such we are continuing to research cutting-edge 6G technologies to help the industry define what 6G will be.”
There are some clues: Forbes recently said its focus will be on latency, writing that it will be at least 100 times faster than 5G.
“6G will be not just like Hulk but more like Flash,” said the piece. This would mean that instead of it taking a few seconds to download a film from Netflix with 5G, 6G speeds could mean that just one second would allow you to download 142 hours of Netflix movies. There are even whispers about the truly sci-fi implications of this capability – the integration of our brains with computers, for example.
Back to 2021, and Karl McDermott, Three Ireland’s head of connected solutions, says we are still at the beginning phase of 5G, which is the phase of faster broadband speeds. “The next phase will bring the low latency aspects of 5G enabling applications such as autonomous driving and remote medical applications,” he says, adding that this still means some very exciting possibilities.
“Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications are also still in their infancy but will begin to accelerate once the 5G standards for low latency are completed and deployed.”
“Edge networking” is also a big buzzword as 5G gradually becomes embedded in our communications fabric, whereby computation and data storage moves away from the central point and closer to the devices people are using.
“For a lot of the 5G applications to work with instantaneous reactions, computing will be moving closer to the edge of the network. We will see a big increase in this edge computing over the next few years linked into the very high speed and low latency 5G networks,” says McDonnell.
Clearly there is much more to be done, and McDonnell says Huawei will continue increasing investments in 5G. “Currently we have more than 10,000 people working on 5G networks, not including those working on 5G devices.”
He says Huawei’s R&D efforts in 5G focus on developing quality products, optimising network performance, and reducing cost per bit and base station energy consumption.
And like every other conversation about the future these days, the positive impact of this technology can be viewed through the prism of climate change. When discussing the future of digital infrastructure, it is important to also consider energy usage, McDonnell says.
“Huawei forecasts that by 2030 more than 50 per cent of all energy will come from renewable sources, more than 50 per cent of cars sold will be electric, and more than 18 per cent of homes will have smart robots. By empowering a wide range of industries, ICT technology has the potential to reduce global carbon emissions by 20 per cent over the next decade.”