12-02-2021 | By Sam Brown
Many of us are currently awaiting the release of 5G networks and devices, yet companies are already talking about plans for 6G. What will 6G potential provide, what research has been done into it, and what technology will become important?
5G is the next-generation cellular technology that will provide many advantages over 4G including lower latency, higher download speeds, and higher instantaneous number of connections. However, the banning of Chinese developed hardware in the west and COVID has seen 5G hindered development. However, despite 5G still lacking in deployment, companies and researchers are already looking towards the next generation of cellular technology, 6G.
To start, 6G is nowhere near commercialisation, and is mostly researchers and engineers discussing protocols, expected speeds, and how it could be implemented. Two figures which have come up include terahertz signal frequencies and 95Gb/s connection speeds. Furthermore, the use of outer space for communication has also been mentioned with China having launched a 6G system into space in November 202 to test how well it would operate.
The network structure will also be similar 5G with cells that help to fragment and divide the network up. However, there has also been mention of the use of air balloons with solar panels on the top side to provide wide-area access that can indefinitely power themselves.
One of the major challenges behind 6G technology is the use of terahertz frequencies. Such frequencies are currently impractical with modern technology. As such, semiconductors operating future 6G systems will be reliant on metamaterials such as graphene and gallium nitride high-electron-mobility transistors. For perspective, terahertz frequency ranges fall between 140GHz and 230GHz which is well beyond the frequency currently used by cellular telecommunications.
The second challenge that 6G will face is installing infrastructure as each and every predecessor has also faced. However, 6G could potentially benefit from software-defined systems that allow for masts and cells to be given a software update to handle new protocols without the need for new hardware. However, there would still be a need for new antenna and decoding systems as a result of the use of terahertz frequencies.
Determining the technological impacts of 6G is difficult to predict as 6G is not expected to become implemented until well into 2030. Furthermore, technology (and how it is used) could change dramatically in the next decade. No one could have predicted the rise of social media and its influence, nor would anyone be able to predict the sudden integration of smartphones into daily lives.
The next decade will see technology become smaller, cheaper, and more advanced which will result in an increase in the use of IoT devices. This increase will be amplified with smart cities' development, and the continuing demand for smart technologies will see large amounts of data being generated.
Therefore, 6G networks may be seen as the next step in connecting all devices onto a singular network. Furthermore, everyday home devices may become 6G powered meaning that internet connections into homes via Fibre and broadband may be seen as redundant. This could result in only 6G stations having access to fibre and broadband connections while the population utilises 6G.
However, increasing concerns about privacy and security may also see edge computing become more important. As such, the total number of devices globally will increase, but the demand for internet service may not accelerate as much (as data is processed locally).
Only time can tell what troubles 6G will face, and what it will be expected to do. From a technical point of view, it makes sense to move as many devices onto cellular networks as possible. The use of Wi-Fi and Ethernet is quickly becoming irrelevant, and those who live in remote locations often find themselves utilising 4G for internet already. Thus, 6G could become the unified network of the future.