What's the Story With 6G?


Mobile 5G adoption is growing faster than any other previous generation of wireless technology. There were 119 million 5G connections in North America alone at the end of 2022, and experts predict there will be 5.9 billion 5G subscribers worldwide by the end of 2027. With so much excitement around 5G, you might think that the telecommunications industry would be satisfied to focus on the current mobile generation for a while. But you would be wrong.

Even as 5G is still in the early stages of roll-out in parts of the world, hype is building around 6G. Expectations for 6G run the gamut from just a faster version of 5G to a "sixth sense experience for humans and machines." But what can we really expect from 6G… and when?

What is 6G?

Each wireless generation has focused on offering faster speeds, improved connectivity, and reduced latency. Next-generation 6G mobile technology is a natural progression from 5G, just like 4G evolved from 3G. Building on today's state-of-the-art technology, 6G is expected to further expand data capacity and speed – reportedly up to 1,000 times faster than currently available 5G service – with lower latency as well.

When we think about the capabilities that 5G enables, it's reasonable to assume that 6G will continue advancing mobile technology… sort of like 5G on steroids. That might mean greater connectivity for smart cities and farms, more immersive virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI) in every device, and everyone making the daily commute in autonomous cars.

However, some pundits predict even bigger technology leaps may be possible with 6G, such as life-like, hologram video calls, a connected exoskeleton, or an extension of the Internet of Things (IoT) to outer space. Others speculate that 6G will usher in a true merging of the digital and physical worlds to create a seamless cyber-physical continuum with extended reality (XR) technology. And some expect 6G will enable "real-time human thought and action in cyberspace." But that's a pretty nebulous concept that may simply refer to more powerful augmented reality (AR), like today's vision of the metaverse.

When Do We Get There?

Despite all the hype around 6G, getting from here to there will require significant advancements in mobile network technology. To accomplish even a fraction of these potential use cases, networks will require more data speed and bandwidth, lower latency, greater reliability, massive machine-to-machine connectivity, and extended coverage range versus today's 5G. Additionally, futuristic visions of immersive telepresence experiences will require spatial mapping with precise positioning and sensing capabilities.

In addition to enhanced architectures, 6G mobile networks will need access to new radio frequencies that aren't already cluttered with existing consumer devices. In 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) agreed to open up spectrum between 95GHz and 3 Terahertz (THz), noting that this would enable massive data capacity to allow for centimeter-level positioning to support drone fleets and robotics controls in 6G and beyond. However, licenses in this spectrum range were offered for experimental use only for a ten-year term, with no decisions made about when - or if - commercial licensing would happen.

Evolution from one "G" to the next takes considerable time and effort. Requirements range from spectrum licensing and network architecture development, to standardization, cell site planning, deployment, and field testing. In fact, standards guiding the next stage of 5G technology, known as 5G-Advanced, aren't expected to be completed before the end of 2025. The jump from 5G to 6G will likewise require years of research.

So, with all that in mind, when can we expect to actually see 6G? Today's best estimate is that the first 6G networks will begin to appear around 2030 at the earliest.

In the Meantime…

The next mobile generation is a natural progression towards faster and better wireless connectivity, but 6G won't become a reality as quickly as the hype might suggest. For now, we have barely scratched the surface of 5G features and capabilities, with a lot more progress to be made. To better understand the advantages of 5G, and how to leverage this real-world technology for optimized in-building DAS connectivity today, visit: solid.com/us/seeking-middle-ground-for-5g-bandwidth.