Mapping the Outlines of our 6G Future
Though some have touted 5G as the “last G,” it is when deployments begin that limitations are revealed and the contours of the next generation of wireless take shape.
These limitations are made especially clear as we lead research projects and develop testbeds to examine new use cases and technologies that define and push the boundaries of our networks.
Take extended reality (XR), for example. Mainstream adoption requires the technology to facilitate both augmented and virtual reality and stitch the experiences together in real time. Today’s 5G’s network technology is simply too slow to enable that level of latency requirement.
Or consider the evolution of video. While current 360° 4K video requires data rates of 10-50Mbps, next generation 360° 8K demands 50-200Mbps — beyond what 5G can deliver today. If we then consider XR and full immersive experiences, which require 200Mbps to 5Gbps — it’s not long before 5G reaches a breaking point, and XR isn’t even the most demanding use case. Expectations of the most futuristic and immersive experiences evoke images of holography, and holographic video requires hundreds of Gbps, even close to Terabit/second data rates – a new standard for the next generation of wireless.
While 5G has and will continue to open the door to new immersive use cases, it will be 6G that pushes them into the mainstream and helps deliver greater sustainability where previous generations could not.
What’s ahead for 6G
The beginning of 6G is envisioned to start in 2025, with the introduction of 3GPP Release 20. The common forecast is that the first drops of 6G will be in 2026, and the complete specification package will be ready for submission to ITU-R IMT-2030 by 2028, likely corresponding with 3GPP Release 20 and 21 and possibly some of Release 22.
As highlighted above, the topmost use cases driving new 6G requirements include:
- Multi-Sensory Extreme Reality (XR) and Haptics
- Connected Industries and Automation
- Autonomous Vehicles and Swarm Systems
- Extreme Coverage (Satellite) and Reaching the Last Billion, and
- Massive sensors/IoT
When examining the enhancements that can be made over 5G, ITU-R IMT-2030 has begun to identify emerging consensus over key 6G capabilities. While it will take several years for the framework to be formally adopted and ratified, the primary capabilities explored include:
- Radio Frequency up to 300 GHz compared to a cap of 100 GHz in 5G
- Peak Data rate up to the Tbps, and user data rate up to the Gbps, compared to few tens of Gbps and Mbps for peak and user data rate, respectively, in 5G
- Latency down to the micro-second scale compared to millisecond in 5G
- Reliability up to 8 nines compared to 5 nines in 5G
- Energy efficiency up to 1000x compared to 5G
What can we learn from 5G?
5G was designed to be the first truly software-defined wireless standard, where network functions would be instantly developed and new frequency bands could be quickly programmed into future ‘revisions’ of 5G networks. The intention of 5G was to see real-time sensing networks support autonomous vehicles, smart cities, virtual reality, and new augmented reality experiences. Today, early deployments of 5G indicate that we could reach a previously unanticipated breaking point.
The 5G dream is fueled by applications like immersive video calling, vehicle-to-vehicle communications, remote surgery, and precision remote control robotics – use cases that will require enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), and massive machine type communications (mMTC), and ultra-low latency communications (URLCC) services.
While deploying two or more network slices is sustainable for a limited number of deployments, networking slicing en-masse is not the most efficient approach. This is where 6G comes in.
Though innovations in 5G New Radio like NR-Lite explore mixing URLLC and mMTC, a network evolution is required to develop a flexible system capable of supporting hybrid services more organically.
As such, today’s 5G infrastructure and technology will need enhancements to support the much-hyped use cases industry and consumers are awaiting. Now is the time to begin developing the next generation of wireless.
5G will deliver a plethora of network efficiencies to deliver enhanced communications and experiences. As our engagement becomes more immersive and 5G’s capabilities begin to reach their breaking point, the intensive research, testing, and road mapping led today at InterDigital and with our research partners will ensure 6G is prepared to deliver wherever 5G left off.