5G is being rolled out. By the end of this year – depending how drastic the current lockdown is – 5G will be helping power intelligent factories and industrial environments around the world. In some cases, 5G handsets will be available and being used by consumers. Now, obviously, we are ready for the hype around 6G (and should be beginning to think about 7G – maybe not).
Already the timescales are looking short. The CTO of Ericsson has played down 6G launch dates but still says it should be ‘ready’ by 2030. Yet 2030 is only nine years away.
And what does 6G offer that 5G, with all its hype and noise, does not offer?
This depends who you listen to and there are already inspirational videos out there showing how 6G will transform our lives – again. As if 5G will not change much, given its own hype (and real potential).
The videos in question generally show someone working on a digital table and pushing and pulling files around, manipulating 3D images and talking to colleagues – all at the same time. But this has been the theme of next generation videos around a new ‘G’ for about a decade. Of course, 6G videos go further, showing remote health monitoring, smart clothes, smart windows, elderly people finding an autonomous cab without effort and then poking about on the ‘passenger’ window to find a weather forecast, menu or to check up on the health of the family pet.
Yet some quite serious entities are on the case with 6G. Japan has set up a dedicated panel and is throwing almost $2 billion at the project and ‘the usual suspects’ are funding research programmes on 6G and its capabilities.
One obvious item for the 6G bucket list is speed. Even though we (as we think of things now) struggle to see how we will use 5G speeds and flexibility, 6G will seem like a comet overtaking a cricket ball. Some are saying ‘forget 5G speeds of 1Gps, if you are lucky, 6G is talking 8,000 Gigabits per second, which is like downloading 142 hours of Netflix movies – in one second’.
Further, NTT DoCoMo says that 6G will make it “possible for cyberspace to support human thought and action in real time through wearable devices and micro-devices mounted on the human body.” A key part of this is that many believe that 6G networks will not belong to any one network operator and that this decoupling ownership will add greatly to the potential.
Whenever 6G comes hurtling over the horizon, let us enjoy watching what 5G can actually offer.
Paul Lee, Head of Technology Media and Telecommunications Research at Deloitte believes that the benefits to consumers from 5G will be largely indirect and in the form of better products and services.
He believes that factories and industrial environments will be where 5G really makes a difference – and therefore 6G more so.
As Lee says, “More flexible factories enabled by 5G will shorten waiting times for customised goods. Infrastructures, from railway tracks to suspension bridges to pipelines, should also be better maintained, thanks to 5G transmitting 8K video to machine vision capabilities that are trained to identify fissures and cracks early on.”
So, while it may be quite fun to watch the hype of 5G turn into reality, and the potential hype of 6G appear in its place, there is some serious money and serious research taking place to fully evaluate the potential of 6G – and of course 7G.
This time, though, can we have just a little less hype and just a few less inspirational videos? Please.