Since 1979, when NTT launched the first generation of mobile networks in Tokyo, mobile connectivity has come a long way. 1G was quickly followed by 2G and 3G. These were networks focused on voice and text communication. The more modern 4G and 5G enabled advanced content and massive data consumption.
In 2023, more than four decades since it all began, mobile operators, telcos and carriers are back at the design table to shape the ultimate generation of mobile networks: 6G.
What is 6G?
6G is a term reserved for the sixth generation of mobile networks. Why do networks evolve? Technological innovations and the amount of data from which to flow data centers devices have increased exponentially. Plus, networks improve more than just bandwidth. They reduce latency or delay and power consumption during data transfers while improving reliability, security and performance.
From 2023, 5G networks will be rolled out at a rapid pace worldwide. The virtualization of network hardware — now working in the cloud with Open RAN standards — streamlines implementation. But it is expected that 5G will soon become obsolete as the digital and physical worlds begin to merge with virtual reality and augmented reality. In addition, the internet of things and Industrial IoT rise to serve the fourth industrial revolution.
These new technologies and the amount of data that must be communicated instantly between devices require a faster, more reliable and more robust generation of mobile networks – think 6G.
SEE: From 5G to 6G: the race for innovation and disruption (TechRepublic)
6G is still in the research and development phase and, like all mobile networks, will work with radio transmissions. 6G is also expected to expand connectivity to rural and remote areas, impacting populations affected by the digital divide. The technology will also theoretically connect the space and satellite sectors thanks to its powerful capacity and low cost.
However, to surpass the performance of 5G while providing high capacity, low latency and connectivity, 6G will need to use new high-frequency bands, such as subterahertz bands above 100 GHz. These radio waves are more sensitive to obstacles, which poses technological challenges that have yet to be solved.
Mobile networks are built in technical network areas where antennas, nodes, edge centers, gateways and Open RAN virtual machines running in the cloud are used to connect devices. Since radio waves need a line of sight for transmission to be successful, several factors must be considered such as urban blocking, refraction, diffraction, scattering, absorption and reflection of radio waves.
To overcome these obstacles, the industry plans to create multipath environments where sensible high-frequency waves can pass without losing power, consuming too much power, and providing low latency. Artificial intelligence computing applications will be key to calculating the shortest and most optimal paths for 6G radio waves.
Benefits of 6G
6G offers improved connectivity
The most immediate and obvious benefit of 6G is that it will boost connectivity and provide instant communication for any device, smartphone, computer, wearables, robotics and IoT. For the industrial sector – on a digital gear, deploying smart factories, manufacturing and distribution systems – 6G will connect industrial IoT devices and power the fourth industrial revolution with a core structure of automation and intelligence.
Every industry will benefit from improved connectivity. For example, healthcare, remote and robotic surgery and telehealth are expected to revolutionize with 6G. Similarly, industries undergoing a profound digitization and modernization journey – finance, retail, manufacturing and others – will leverage 6G to continue groundbreaking transformations.
6G will drive technological innovation
6G mobile networks are a crucial part of innovation. With supercomputers, quantum computing, machine learning, AI, global cloud data centers, the metaverse and new devices, the technologies of the future will only work thanks to 6G connectivity.
6G is energy efficient and energy efficient
Low energy and energy efficiency are crucial advantages of 6G. Organizations and companies strive to achieve net zero emissions targets and work to reduce energy consumption for economic and environmental reasons. The energy efficiency of 6G has become attractive to all industries. In addition, low-power connections are needed to extend the battery life of IoT and mobile devices.
6G offers low latency
6G will benefit society with incredibly low latency. Latency refers to the delay a digital system has when transferring data. The more data, the greater the effort of the network; therefore, the risks of latency increase. But thanks to 6G innovation, connectivity is expected to be instantaneous.
Disadvantages of 6G
6G may sound like the promise of the future, but it still faces many challenges.
6G is still in the development phase
At that time, 6G technology is in the development stage – this is its main drawback. While companies like Nokia, NTT and others have plans to test small 6G networks, these are just pilot projects. 6G is expected to be rolled out worldwide in 2030. For the time being, it is still mainly a theoretical technology.
Huge investments and efforts are required for the worldwide implementation of 6G
The second most critical drawback of 6G is its global deployment. With 5G, the world has recently witnessed the many hurdles encountered in building and operating a new generation of mobile networks.
Huge investments and efforts are required for mobile networks to become mainstream in every continent. Alignment, standardization and collaboration in the industry are essential. Telco, mobile carriers and hardware makers are used to working in competition, not cooperation, and 5G and 6G require a shift in these business models.
6G requires the development of new network architectures
6G presents a wide range of technical issues that must be resolved before it can enter the production and operation phase. Designing new network architectures, combining AI, nodes, the edge and the cloud to develop 6G connectivity continues to baffle even the greatest minds in the industry.
Smartphones, computers and IoT devices also need to be redesigned on a hardware and software level to be 6G ready. Again, standardization and cross-industry collaboration are essential.
The initial investment costs for 6G are high
Another challenge is to deliver the value of 6G as a very low cost connectivity technology. In the future, 6G may reduce costs for end users compared to 5G, but the initial global investment required to get to that point is huge. Other engineering challenges include energy efficiency, optimizing terahertz-sensitive frequency paths, stabilizing visible-light communications technology, and optimizing the AI, ML, and advanced computing resources required to make these futuristic networks work.
6G requires a rethink of traditional cybersecurity
Security is a top priority for 6G development. With the redesign of networks, cybersecurity and privacy features need to be reimagined, strengthened and adapted. Traditional cybersecurity practices will become obsolete and developers will need to innovate in authentication, encryption, access control, communication and malicious activity detection to ensure robust security postures for 6G users.
SEE: Why 5G (and even 6G) can put your business at risk for a cyber-attack (TechRepublic)
Main features of 6G
High performance and low latency
The global demand for data transfer is the main driver behind 6G. From AR and VR to smart cities and the fourth industrial revolution, 6G will enable automation and data flows of unprecedented levels. Future networks will need to be able to move big data instantaneously with agility, speed and reliability.
With each new generation of mobile networks, the cost and price of connectivity for end users has come down. 6G is expected to be the most accessible and open network ever built. This will help the world close the digital divide, boost economies and create new business opportunities.
The energy factor is central to 6G technology. Not only is it aligned with clean energy and carbon emissions milestones, but its optimization is imperative if 6G is to provide low-cost, efficient services. Keeping power consumption low is vital to delivering the expected battery life that industrial IoT, IoT, new wearables, smartphones and computers need.
Cyberattacks targeting networks are on the rise with the endless expansion of the digital surface and the addition of billions of endpoints and devices. Creating a bigger, faster and better network is a double-edged sword. Cybercriminals will use the power of 6G to their advantage. So 6G requires new security protocols, new encryption standards and a new generation of firewalls and security solutions for intrusion detection.
6G will not only drive innovation, but also require it to function. The advanced and complex architecture of 6G mobile network areas will use AI, ML and supercomputing processes on a daily basis to ensure connectivity and security.
The emergence of 6G
The race for 6G is well underway, with leading global operators already moving into testing phases. 6G is unquestionably inevitable. However, 6G is not a one-person, one-company venture. To build the next generation of connectivity, a large number of companies, organizations and developers must come together.
Read more about this topic when NTT last month developed a new wave propagation simulation technologyessential for the future of communications, 6G, IoT and other industries.