Apple already advertising for 6G engineers
The major wireless carriers in the United States are still working tirelessly to deploy a true, nationwide 5G network across the country, but according to 6GWorld Managing Editor Alex Lawrence that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start thinking about the next generation of wireless connectivity.
Lawrence oversees 6GWorld, an “independent home for thought leadership that helps research and technology industries prepare to answer the problems of tomorrow.” The site serves as a platform for news and debate on anything related to 6G, the world of 2025 to 2030 when 6G might first appear, according to Lawrence and how to bridge the gap between where the wireless industry is now and where it’s headed.
“We’re putting together events, podcasts, putting out a newsletter, that kind of thing,” Lawrence told Connected Real Estate Magazine in an exclusive interview. “So all we’re trying to encourage is people to, at this stage maybe not even have the answers, but just getting them thinking about the questions that need to be solved.”
Since the quest to fully deploy 5G isn’t completed yet and 6G could be some years away, based on Lawrence’s own projections, one might wonder why anyone would want to start thinking about the sixth generation of wireless connectivity now. According to Lawrence, 6G could be counted on to deliver the hype that’s surrounded 5G the last few years.
“I think there’s a tradition in telecommunication that every even-numbered ‘G’ fixes the problems of the odd-numbered one,” he said. “So, 4G was what 3G promised to be and there’s a big school of thought that says 6G is actually going to deliver all the hype around what 5G promised. As it stands today, there’s all of this excitement around 5G being able to solve every problem, and we’ve got a slightly faster 4G where it exists.”
Lawrence also believes it’s not too soon to start thinking about 6G because doing so now allows for more time to come up with solutions to right any wrongs that come out of the 5G deployment. For example, Lawrence noted that technologists and researchers drove much of 5G’s development. Other industries weren’t involved in the early stages of the process to determine what they actually might want or need out of a 5G network. Essentially telecom is driving the connectivity without much input from the enterprises that would actually be using 5G.
“If they had the opportunity or had thought early enough about how to develop a proposition, it would have given them the opportunity to be that partner and actually generating revenue from the enterprise,” Lawrence said.
What does 6G look like exactly?
A 6G definition will vary depending on whom you ask, according to Lawrence. However, there are some boxes the next generation of wireless will likely have to check off in order to be successful. A 6G network will have to be faster than 5G naturally, but also be able to deliver sustainable results, make even better use of artificial intelligence (AI) and use less energy.
“We’re also looking at something that’s potentially a lot more flexible and scalable,” Lawrence said.
The disconnect between physical infrastructure and the services running on the software over top of it is one industry trend 6G could correct. That disconnect has become more apparent with the development of high altitude drone platforms on 5G as well as low altitude satellites.
“In 6G, the aim is to bring all of that together, which means you could need a bit less fiber,” Lawrence said. “If you want to deploy, in a relatively remote area, you’ll be able to do that and back up all of your signals wirelessly to those drones or satellites. It becomes a lot more flexible so you can deliver that intelligence where you need it to be.”
How will signals move on a 6G network?
One of the biggest difficulties 5G has had is moving signals on millimeter wave, the fastest spectrum, because it has trouble bypassing physical objects. It’s hard to imagine 6G being any more successful without placing billions of small cells all over the world only for the signal to go short distances. There are workarounds, according to Lawrence. One solution is to use smart devices or services that can receive the signals and bend or bounce them around objects so they get where they need to without difficulty.
“We will be using beam forming to direct signals very tightly and with a lot of power exactly where it needs to be,” Lawrence said. “You might also have one of these smart materials on the side of a building that can take that beam and bounce it back so that you can send it around the corner to open a device there.”
It’s also likely that 6G won’t be a single technology, but rather a host of solutions depending on need. When fast, accurate signaling is necessary, terahertz can be used. This might be the case in a factory for inventory management or product positioning within that building. Then for larger scale situations, where speed isn’t as critical, low 6G frequencies or even 4G or 5G can be used.
6G may be closer than we think
Anyone who thinks Lawrence and 6GWorld are getting ahead of themselves should know they aren’t alone in thinking about the next generation of wireless connectivity. Apple, which recently launched its first 5G-enabled smartphone, recently posted a job ad for wireless system research engineers for current and next-generation networks, Bloomberg reports.
“You will have the unique and rewarding opportunity to craft next generation wireless technology that will have deep impact on future Apple products,“ the job announcement said. “In this role you will be at the center of a cutting-edge research group responsible for creating next generation disruptive radio access technologies over the next decade.”
The technology company isn’t ahead of the game, but right on time, according to Lawrence.
“5G is just at the start of the commercial launch out there, but if we’re not starting to think about 6G now, then we’re just going to repeat the mistakes we’ve made in 5G,” he said. “We have a couple of years were we can work with different industries and then different stakeholders to figure out what we want 6G to be and what we want to deliver for industries and society as a whole. But if we start off with just academics and (research and development) teams running off and coming back in six years saying, ‘Anyway, what can you do with this?’ then we’re in trouble.”
To hear more about 6GWorld and Alex Lawrence’s thoughts on the potential next generation of wireless, check out his appearance on the Connected with Laurie podcast next week.
Joe Dyton can be reached at email@example.com.