What do we know about 6G technology? We know about as much as we knew about 5G in 2009/2010, which is to say enough to start to placing some bets in terms of technology development. Leading ICT service providers (such as NTT DoCoMo), vendors (such as Samsung), academic intuitions (such as University of Oulu) and other NGOs are identifying the purpose, goals, and associated capabilities for sixth generation wireless.

We are closely tracking developments with these organizations and others. In addition, Mind Commerce is monitoring companies working on advanced materials science for smart surfaces. We are also tracking advanced power management and self-powered IoT devices developments involving many approaches including energy harvesting technology. This article considers the anticipated characteristics, technologies, requirements, and solutions that will likely emerge as a result of ideation, R&D, and ultimate engineering and deployment of 6G networks and systems.

Sixth Generation Wireless Characteristics

6G will be characterized in many ways as substantively advanced as compared to 5G in prior versions of wireless evolution including:

  • Terahertz level Data
  • Extreme focus on Short-range Communication
  • AI is Inherent within the Network
  • Extremely High Radio Density
  • Very High Network Heterogeneity (Extreme HetNets)
  • Transformed Radio Topology (Mesh, Hops, and Peer-to-Peer)

These characteristics will be manifest in the technologies, capabilities, and ultimately the applications, services and solutions that distinguish 6G from all generations that preceded it.

Sixth Generation Wireless Technology

Expanding upon the trend started with technologies supporting the 5G applications market, sixth generation wireless technology will be integrated with a set of previously disparate technologies. Several key technologies will converge with 6G including AI, big data analytics, and computing. 6G networks will extend the performance of existing 5G applications along with expanding the scope of capabilities in support of increasingly new and innovative applications across the realms of sensing, wireless cognition, and imaging.

The sixth generation wireless technology market will exploit some completely some new approaches to increasing bandwidth and reducing latency, such as sub-THz radio frequency and visible light spectrum, as well as leverage enhancements to existing radio methods, such as advanced MIMO technologies to increase spectral efficiency. This will include some innovative methods  such as angular momentum multiplexing, combining multi-RAT and 3D multi-link connectivity, along with ultra-dense radio access point deployment (e.g hyper-extension of the small cell concept in a HetNet environment).

Sixth Generation Wireless Capabilities

6G technologies will provide substantial improvements as compared to 5G and its predecessors. Some of those capabilities include:

  • Ultra-reliable Extremely Low Latency Communications
  • High capacity (in short range)
  • Seamless networks (invisible to user)
  • Very high security and privacy
  • Optimized power

There are many aspects to consider with each of these capabilities. For example, with optimized power, we must consider energy efficiency (very low power requirements), energy sources/management (ambient energy harvesting and self-powering), and other factors such as device size, usage, placement, etc.

Sixth Generation Wireless Requirements

There will be many requirements for 6G that represent an extension of 5G as well as some new challenges and opportunities including business planning, materials science, engineering, and power management. Advancements will need to occur in these and other technical areas in order for sixth generation wireless to realize its potential for high-frequency driven massive bandwidth, albeit constrained to relatively short-range communications.

A few notable future requirements for sixth generation wireless networks predicted by Mind Commerce include:

  • Context and behavior aware end-to-end cybersecurity
  • Embedded artificial intelligence and core network-based AI
  • Mesh networking and orchestration of networks-of-networks
  • Support for micro-operators and a new breed of virtual networks
  • Support for a large number of neutral hosts and many private networks
  • Rationalization of fully cloud-native networks and service-based architecture

Sixth Generation Wireless Networking

There is a high likelihood for sixth generation wireless networks to evolve to become more of a communications mesh as opposed to the current hub and spoke type configuration. In this mesh arrangement, there may be a complex interconnected web of RF signals that serve as access points as well as node-to-node connectivity and back-haul for larger frequency aggregation hubs, currently known as cell sites.

Peer to Peer 6G

In other words, future of the RAN may evolve from today’s world (e.g. dependency on legacy carrier hubs for macro WAN communications and WiFi for local hotspots) to a much more distributed radio access system.There will a much bigger emphasis on peer-to-peer networking with sixth generation wireless than with everything prior.

This is due to a variety of reasons, not the least of which is because the short-range communications nature of 6G requires node-to-node “hopping” and communications between adjacent radios as a means of getting a signal from point A to point Z wherein these two points are not adjacent. With sixth generation wireless networks, virtually any object will have embedded wireless communications.

This will allow each item to communicate with any other likewise enabled asset/thing/device in the world. Objects will be able to relay data to one another, pass data to hyper-local edge computing equipment, as well as pass information directly to the WAN, all without the need to go through a gateway device.

This will have have substantial bearing on residential networking, but an even bigger impact on private business networks. For example, industrial sixth generation wireless systems will consist of assets (equipment, robots, materials, finished goods) that have embedded wireless communications allowing for local communication between them and as well as long-range communications with virtually anything else in the world. Individual assets/objects will communicate with each other in a peer-to-peer arrangement locally via short-range radio as well as signal and exchange data with remote items via WAN connectivity.

Sixth Generation Wireless Innovation

Deploying and operating radio networks for sixth generation wireless will require innovation in many ways including RF signal management. One of the innovations that Mind Commerce sees coming is smart surfaces, which represents materials that may be applied to existing structures (such as buildings) to relay 6G signals that would otherwise attenuate.

Smart Surfaces

A smart surface is a structure that is able to communicate with other objects/equipment, and in some cases, react to its environment based on information gathered from sensors (pressure, temperature, movement, presence, etc.).

To achieve this capability, materials engineering will need to advance to leverage new approaches, such use of nano-textured materials (e.g. covered with nano-sized structures), and other technological approaches to reinventing building materials and supplementary structural applications.

The need for smart surfaces is driven largely by the fact that 5G and beyond signals have a high degree of attenuation, which can be mitigated by allowing signals to relay from smart surfaces to both other smart surfaces and communications radio equipment. This type of approach can help significantly with communications in an urban environment as well as for indoor communications.

It’s one thing to conceive an RF environment that leverages smart surfaces, but another thing altogether to implement and operate. There will be a need for substantial work in materials science and electrical engineering to realize this vision for wireless propagation beyond 5G.

Sixth Generation Wireless Impacts

Considering sixth generation wireless today is like thinking about 5G in 2009, a time when 4G LTE was launching and it was prohibitively difficult to fully anticipate the changes that would follow. The same is true for 5G now, and will likely be the same for 6G ten years from now, when it is commercialized in the 2030 time-frame. We cannot fully appreciate the impact 5G will have, let alone identify the impacts that 6G will have in 2030. However, we can make some  predictions based on previous patterns about evolution to sixth generation wireless. A few of the potential impacts include:

  • There will a much bigger emphasis on peer-to-peer networking with 6G than with everything prior. This is due to a variety of reasons, not the least of which is because the short-range communications nature of 6G
  • With substantially more data created by 6G than 5G networks, and the evolution of computing to include coordination between edge and core platforms, the need for datacenter evolution will be paramount
  • With the potential for dramatic advances in wireless sensing, the sixth generation wireless market may facilitate the ability to autonomously sense human behaviors and digitally catalog every action/behavior

Sixth Generation Wireless Solutions

The trend involving enterprise and industrial segment customers implementing and operating their own private wireless networks will be a dominant theme for the next decade. Private wireless deployments currently involve LTE and 5G, leveraging both licensed and unlicensed cellular spectrum as well as WiFi and edge computing. One of the ways in which 5G is laying the groundwork for 6G solutions is the many private wireless implementations involving 5G and edge computing for enterprise and industrial customers.

Private Networks and Neutral Hosting

There is an emerging battle between 5G and WiFi for business usage. Sixth generation wireless market capabilities will evolve to provide substantially improved indoor wireless efficiency and effectiveness. As started with fifth generation networks, 6G will also substantial alter legacy carrier business models as they will need to account for new virtual network operator models (such as a substantive expansion of neutral hosts of all types) as well as the advent of the micro-operator.

Sixth generation wireless will also provide the potential for many completely new and innovative solutions such as substantive improvements in the areas of sensing, imaging, and location determination. 6G wireless sensing solutions will selectively use different frequencies to measure absorption and adjust frequencies accordingly. This is possible because atoms and molecules emit and absorb electromagnetic radiation at characteristic frequencies and the emission and absorption frequencies are the same for any given substance.

Sixth Generation Wireless Reports

Mind Commerce provides extensive coverage of the wireless broadband industry including 5G, LTE, WiFi, and WiMAX. Our practice also covers LTE and 5G supported apps and services such as Virtual Reality and Haptic Internet, Telepresence and Teleoperation, Voice over 5G (Vo5G), Robotics and Industrial Automation.

The Mind Commerce report, 5G and Beyond 5G Technology, Infrastructure, and Devices 2020 – 2030, evaluates the outlook for 5G equipment, software and services as well as the 6G market for infrastructure, devices, applications, and services. The report assesses the technologies, capabilities, and anticipated communications and computing solutions beyond 5G. It analyzes 5G evolution and the impact of anticipated 6G technologies on the ICT ecosystem including infrastructure, business planning, and innovation areas necessary to realize the beyond 5G market.

Sixth Generation Cellular: Looking Beyond 5G to the 6G Technology Market from Mind Commerce investigates the upcoming 6G technology market that builds upon our extensive analysis in LTE, 5G, and computing (core cloud, edge computing, HPC, and quantum), and other related areas such as artificial intelligence and AI support of other technologies. The report looks beyond 5G (B5G) as it evaluates R&D efforts, technologies, and anticipated capabilities that both build upon 5G as well as leap far beyond what is currently envisioned with existing solution abilities. The report includes quantitative analysis with 6G technology market sizing for 2025 through 2030.