With 5G networks still being deployed around the world and many areas of the globe still using 4G and even 3G networks, it seems a bit early to throw around the term 6G. After all, what use do we have for 6G networks when relatively few people can even use a 5G network?
That said, technology always pushes forward and standards take a long time to mature, so we’ve always been on a path to a 6G world. If anything, the idea of 6G this early in the development of 5G simply indicates how quickly this technology moves forward. We’ve managed to go from 1G to 5G in such a relatively short amount of time, so 6G is just the natural progression towards faster and better wireless connectivity.
Although 6G would make sense as the successor to 5G, it may actually never be called “6G.” If not something like 5G Enhanced or 5G Advanced, we might one day stop with all the numbers and names and just say that we’re connected.
Ultimately, whether it's with 6G, 7G, or another "G", we’ll have such incredibly fast speeds that no progress bars or wait times will be required for any normal amount of data, at least at today's standards. Everything will just be available…instantly, and we won't need to keep making new terms to describe it.
When Will 6G Come Out?
It’s been typical for a new mobile network standard to take the spotlight every decade or so. That means 6G networks might roll out sometime around 2030 (or even a bit earlier in Asia and other areas that were first to introduce 5G), or at least that’s when most telecom companies will be running trials and when we’ll see phone manufacturers tease 6G-capable phones.
However, it’s common for work to start as long as a decade prior to any real implementation of a new network technology, which might be why you’ll start hearing about 6G before you even have your hands on a 5G phone!
Progress won’t start and finish overnight, though. For the same reasons 5G rollouts are slow, 6G networks won’t come out as quickly as we’d like. There are frequency bands to debate over, spectrum licenses to purchase, physical towers to build and coordinate, and rules to deal with.
Despite 6G being less than a decade away, few companies are actually looking into it seriously right now, but 6G experimentation is expected to really kick into high gear as we identify where 5G fails. The next network type will improve on the inevitable weaknesses and limitations of 5G, so it won't take long for the powers that be to start deciding what to do next.
See the "Latest 6G News" section at the bottom of this page for updates.
Anything that you use a network connection for right now will be greatly improved on a 6G network. Literally, every single improvement that 5G brings will manifest as an even better, enhanced version on a 6G network.
We’re already destined to have more powerful VR and AR systems with 5G, plus interconnected smart cities and farms, AI at our fingertips, intelligent robotics working in factories, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication, and more. 6G will continue to support all of those areas with greater strength, while also providing even more bandwidth that will ultimately expand innovation even further, maybe even into fields that we haven’t tapped into yet or even considered. Think more immersive virtual reality applications and life-like, hologram video calls.
For example, Marcus Weldon of Nokia Bell Labs, says that 6G will be a “sixth sense experience for humans and machines” where biology meets AI.
Japanese phone operator NTT Docomo predicts 6G will enable the “sophistication of cyber-physical fusion”, which that document claims will be required in the 2030s. This will, according to them, 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.”
Much of what makes 5G so great is its low latency of around 4 ms, but 6G networks might bring this down even further, maybe even to the point that we can safely say that there’s virtually zero latency. The start time for movies, TV, and games will be limited only by how long it takes the screen to power on, and video calls can be as crystal clear as standing in front of the other person.
As we’ve seen in the past with 3G, 4G, and 5G, as the capacity of a network increases, so too will its applications. This will cause an amazing effect where new products and services can be built to utilize 6G’s bandwidth and other improved features to their fullest extents.
6G vs 5G: What Are the Differences?
Speed and latency will be the clearest distinction between 6G and 5G. This is what separates 5G and 4G in terms of performance, so we can also expect 6G to be magnitudes of times speedier than 5G.
If early targets are eventually met, 6G networks will supposedly have 50-100x the capacity of 5G networks. Also, where 5G must support 1 million devices for every square kilometer, 6G is proposed to support 10 million devices.
How fast will 6G be? There’s no telling right now, but even with 5G, we’re seeing speeds of up to 1 Gbps in ideal circumstances. 6G will absolutely top that, but how much is still in question. We might see several hundred gigabit per second speeds, or even ranges in the terabytes. Samsung Electronics tested 6G tech at 50 times faster than 5G.
As for how 6G will be faster than 5G is still up in the air, but we can assume it will involve using ultrahigh frequencies (millimeter waves) of the radio spectrum. 5G’s bandwidth capacity lies in the fact that it uses high radio frequencies; the higher you go up the radio spectrum, the more data you can carry. 6G might eventually approach the upper limits of the radio spectrum and reach extremely high frequency levels of 300 GHz, or even terahertz ranges.
However, just like we’re seeing now with the ultra-fast 5G networks variants being extremely localized due to the inherent limits of millimeter waves, the same problem will be seen in 6G networks. For example, the range of terahertz radiation is around 10 meters, which is much too short for significant 6G coverage.
Perhaps by 2030, we’ll have developed new ways to amplify signals far enough to avoid building thousands of new 6G cell towers. Or maybe we’ll have found better methods for transmitting huge amounts of data, like these researchers who, in 2022, used a new kind of transmitter that created focused beams (vortex millimeter waves) to carry more information; 1 TB of data was moved in a single second.
Do We Really Need 6G?
5G intends to make the internet more accessible for lots of people and improve everything from entertainment to healthcare. Whether those areas will have room for improvement beyond 5G—and thus require the use of something better, like 6G—is a resounding yes.
However, as fun as it might be to imagine a time when 5G is considered slow and 6G powers the world, if 5G pans out correctly or slowly evolves under that same term, we might never need to come up with a new next-gen network.
The 6G concept could be avoided as long as manufacturers, regulators, and telecom companies keep improving 5G. If all of 5G's pitfalls could be addressed on a frequent basis, new products could continuously flow into the market to take advantage of the ever-changing and constantly evolving new technology.
Latest 6G News
Here are some clues 6G development is already in its early stages:
- In mid-2022, experimental 6G trials began with NEC, DOCOMO, and NTT.
- Finnish organizations founded a coalition to advance Finland’s 6G competitiveness.
- Samsung held its first-ever 6G forum, Samsung 6G Forum.
- The US Department of Homeland Security completed a study on the early development of 6G.
- VMware unveiled vision towards 6G technology.
- Vietnam Minister Nguyen Manh Hung emphasized the necessity for the country to start 6G research in 2022. Frequency licensing is expected by 2028.
- Chinese researchers transmit 1 terabyte of data over 3,000 feet in one second. That’s equivalent to downloading the whole of Wikipedia (~20 GB) faster than it takes to blink!
- In early 2022, the government of Catalonia, Spain, approved the research and development of 6G technology.
2021 & 2020
- India’s Minister for Communication, Ashwini Vaishnaw, said the country could develop 6G tech by 2024.
- In late 2021, Ericsson and KAUST announced a R&D partnership to develop 5G and 6G technologies in Saudi Arabia.
- South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT held a “6G Strategy Meeting” in mid-2021.
- Apple began looking for engineers in early 2021 to develop 6G.
- Osaka University researchers employed 300-GHz band terahertz waves as an information carrier that allows for wireless communications of 8K UHD video with a data rate of 48 Gbps.
- China sent a 6G satellite into orbit in late 2020 to test ultra-high speeds using terahertz waves.
- ATIS launched the Next G Alliance in late 2020 to aid North America’s advancement toward “6G and beyond.” Members include Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, Microsoft, Samsung, Facebook, Apple, Google, Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm, and others. Here’s their white paper on their vision for 6G in North America.
- Japan is planning to launch 6G by 2030.
2019 & 2018
- Shortly after China launched 5G in 2019, the Ministry of Science and Technology announced that they’d be starting 6G research and development through the help of government departments, research institutes, universities, and enterprises.
- Virginia Tech begins 6G research in 2019.
- In early 2018, the University of Oulu in Finland announced the funding of their 6G Flagship program to research materials, antennas, software, and more that will be required to launch 6G.
- The FCC took the first steps of opening up terahertz wave spectrum (frequencies between 95 GHz and 3 THz), citing that it will “expedite the deployment of new services in the spectrum above 95 GHz.”