What is 6G? How does it compare to 5G?

While 5G has not yet become a mainstream, especially in developing countries, we may already have a look at how 6G will unify its predecessor. And this is not surprising in the technology industry, as the telecommunications giants are always on the lookout for technologies that will serve future generations.

While everything we know about 6G is still theoretical, it will certainly be an extension of the existing 5G network.

6G could expand cutting-edge technologies such as AI, robotics and automation to new dimensions. Let’s see how it can differ from 5G.

The evolution of mobile networks (from 0G to 6G)

The first wireless transmission in history took place in 1895. An Italian inventor, Guglielmo Marconi, transmitted the Morse code wirelessly via 3.4 kilometers via radio waves. Nearly a century later, in 1973, the first cordless cell phones, called 0G cell phones, were demonstrated. This was a pivotal time for wireless communications.

Shortly after this invention by Motorola engineer Martin Cooper, telecommunications companies began developing the first-generation “1G” mobile network. It had a bandwidth of 30 kHz and a speed of 2.4 Kbps, which only allowed voice calls. Although 1G had low voice quality and limited capacity, it was used until 1991.

Image of various mobile networks

Leaving 1G behind, 2G mobile phones hit the markets in the 1990s, allowing users to send SMS, email, and even surf the Internet at lower speeds. It offered bandwidths from 30 kHz to 200 kHz; continuous advances increased speeds to 384 Kbps.

From there, advances in wireless technology took off and we saw a new generation every decade. 3G expanded to 2G, with speeds more than 50 times faster, making video calls and Internet-based applications easier. Then 4G came with speeds of 50 to 500 times that of 3G with lower latency and HD videos.

Now, we have 5G with a top speed of 20 Gbps, and Qualcomm claims that 5G will benefit from the integration of IoT, automation and extreme reality (XR). Eventually, 6G will surpass 5G, making even the most unthinkable technological feats possible. Let’s take a closer look at what 6G is and the potential benefits it offers.

Related: Confused about 5G? Here’s what you need to know about 5G coverage

What is 6G?

6G will emerge as the sixth generation of wireless communications to succeed 5G wireless technology, which has not yet been leveraged in many countries. 6G uses tremendously high frequency (THF) waves, also known as submillimeter waves, to achieve speeds 100 times faster than 5G, which, by comparison, uses millimeter waves (mmWave).

By enabling 6G, latency is expected to be less than a microsecond with increased bandwidth to accommodate connectivity. In other words, this state-of-the-art technology is designed to bridge the gap between the digital and the real world.

In its “Samsung Networks: Redefined” event, Samsung mentions that it has already made significant progress on its roadmap of a hyperconnected experience via 6G, reaching 50 times the speed and one-tenth of the latency of 5G.

6G to open new horizons

Wi-Fi icon

Along with its unfathomable speeds and microsecond latencies, 6G is also expected to be highly reliable and support a lot of real-time data processing, making it easy to work with big data.

It will be the product of advances integrated in wireless communications and other technologies such as detection, imaging, visualization and AI. Aside from optimizing standalone technologies, these are some of the advances that next-generation terahertz wireless technology can generate.

Immersive extended reality (XR)

Extended reality (XR) is a term that encompasses virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR). XR will open new doors in a variety of fields, including the entertainment, medical, science, education and manufacturing industries.

The concept gained popularity when 5G arrived, but due to current hardware limitations and lack of wireless capabilities, 5G will not be compatible with XR. This is where 6G fills the gaps. The corresponding hardware is expected to be available by the time 6G is deployed and, with both combined, XR will become a reality.

Mobile holograms

Advances in high-resolution rendering, portable displays, and ultra-speed wireless networks will allow mobile devices to display holograms. Holographic display requires a high data transfer rate, which provides 6G.

With that in mind, you may be wondering how realistic this technology would be. While we still don’t know for sure, the best we can assume is that it will be similar to what Google showed us with its new Project Starline initiative at Google I / O Keynote 2021.

To put this in perspective, a hologram on a mobile device with a 6.7-inch screen requires a speed of 580 Gbps, which is only possible with 6G. To make this possible, advances in AI can be useful in the compression, extraction, and representation of holographic data.

Digital replica

A digital replica is a virtual copy of a real physical entity that acts as a real-time digital twin. Through digital twins, users will be able to observe, monitor and explore real entities in a virtual environment without spatial and temporal constraints.

With XR and holographic screens combined, users can go beyond observation and interact with these digital twins. Through the integration of robotics and digital replication, users can physically move a robot into the real world by virtually controlling its digital twin.

While it is difficult to explain everything, given the new nature of this technology, digital replication will pave the way for innovative advances in various fields.

What challenges must 6G overcome?

6G will change the way we perceive information, communicate with people and machines, and experience life. To achieve all this and more, huge improvements are required in the hardware and computing capabilities of mobile phones and extended network performance compared to 5G.

The biggest challenge for 6G is to counteract the atmospheric absorption and severe trajectory loss of terahertz waves. Current 5G networks also face this problem; users reported a loss of signal when a tree or building obstructed them.

Samsung’s 6G white paper mentions several “candidate” technologies that could potentially solve this problem. Some of these technologies include mesh-type network topology, spectral sharing, full AI, and other new technologies.

6G and Sustainability

As climate change becomes an increasingly complex global problem, it is crucial to make sustainable progress. Luckily, we have good news. According to the World Economic Forum, digital technologies (including 5G) could reduce global emissions by 15% by 2020. And with an increase in efficiency and sustainability standards, 6G has more goals.

6G is expected to play an important role in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Virtualization will allow the sustainable production and consumption of energy resources. The hyperconnectivity and access to information provided by 6G will improve living standards around the world.

6G: A real science fiction future to come to life?

Most of 6G is still unexplored territory and for good reason. Of course, it has a long list of challenges to overcome and it won’t come to us soon, but the benefits it offers are too revolutionary not to mention.

6G will add a new dimension to existing emerging technologies such as cloud gaming, cloud storage, VR, AR and the like. Most importantly, it will help us pioneer new technologies such as XR, holographic displays and digital replica, an inevitable step into the future of wireless technology.

Young man holding iPhone in front of desk
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