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Top 6 ways 6G technology will change things

A networked globe with the text 6G floating above it.
Image: sutadimages/Adobe Stock

The sixth generation mobile standard promises all the capabilities of 5G and more. It’s less revolutionary and more progressively advanced to faster speeds and greater connectivity. Of course, organizations are scrambling to find new ways to use it so they can get to the ground floor of that elusive “faster, cheaper, better” paradox.

6G cellular broadband networks are likely to be faster and more versatile than 5G networks, supporting a wider range of uses and devices. It has a wide variety of non-mobile enterprise applications – as long as those uses are really practical.

Meanwhile, corporate 5G mobility itself is still in its infancy. 5G and 6G networks are racing to unlock the next big thing. In addition, 6G faces many challenges for widespread adoption. Here are six ways it can change the way the tech world works, from connectivity itself to retail and manufacturing.

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What’s holding back 6G?

6G is still in its infancy in terms of developing and creating the right infrastructure to support it.

“Nobody has a clear view of the killer applications of 6G and what we’ll do to our devices, but we can make fairly accurate predictions about where capacity will be needed,” Nokia’s Joe Madden wrote.

This does not mean that companies need to wait to start preparing for the next generation of cellular broadband.

“While 5G commercialization is still in its initial stage, it is never too early to start preparing for 6G,” said Sungyun Choi, head of the Advanced Communications Research Center at Samsung. “It usually takes about 10 years from the start of research to the commercialization of a new generation of communication technology.”

Samsung and other vendors are working on a 6G roadmap that extends through 2023, including their investment in the International Telecommunication Union – Radiocommunications 6G Working Group. It aims to build the necessary structure for the standardization and commercialization of 6G.

Establishing high-frequency signals, managing multiple wireless segments within a single device, and automating programmable and distributed network management is still in progress. Finding enough storage and preventing latency issues are other familiar issues in today’s IoT that will just need to be sold more efficiently if 6G’s potential is to be unlocked. However, 6G is poised to solve a myriad of problems as well.

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New ways to reach sustainability goals

Today’s sustainability efforts are limited by technology and an always-increasing philosophy. 6G is seen by some organizations as a gateway to improving energy efficiency, such as Ericsson. The company has contributed to the Next G Alliance project, a North American 6G industry advocacy group, whose report on sustainability and 6G states that meeting targets for slowing global warming requires everything from communicating more efficiently to sourcing raw materials and processing waste.

They note that the proposed 5G adoption shows a reduction in power over 4G in some key areas, such as RAN power consumption. However, data center power consumption has skyrocketed.

And increases in traffic make sustainability and carbon reduction efforts an uphill battle. This competes with advances in hardware that allow “more data using less power,” according to the report. 6G is not a magic bullet, but it may be part of the solution.

Making augmented reality more practical

Today’s tech giants are exploring the use of augmented reality for on-the-job assistance and training. Warehouse workers may use augmented reality glasses to navigate around shelves in a large, confusing space, as they are directed to the item they need to pick through an interconnected network of tags in sync with the warehouse’s automated sorting system. This requires speed and uptime, and is best enabled by faster networks than we have today. This is where 6G connectivity comes in.

Accelerate the Internet of Things and surrounding computing

6G’s lower latency will be enabled in part by distributed or perimeter computing. These terms have slightly different meanings but there is a lot of overlap. In this case, we mean that 6G latency will be reduced by distributing processing time across neighboring devices, or a “3D network.”

Other 6G use cases for IoT and edge computing include real-time inventory management in factories, healthcare devices with real-time data and insights, and autonomous vehicle fleets.

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A new era for digital twins

Another expected use case in digital twins. These have been in use and in discussion of manufacturing for decades, and NASA first used them in a really practical sense in the early 2010s.

Digital twins help organizations test their products under real-world conditions, reduce the cost, time and materials needed for prototyping, and explore how products work and connect in complex environments.

Native sensing also connects to AI in a variety of ways that 6G will change connections and the shape of the network compared to 5G or 4G networks.

Integrated sensor improvement

Integrated sensing is a class of wireless technologies that includes sensor and communication systems that optimize wireless resources and enable large-scale environmental sensing.

Adding 6G to the mix in the future could be key to improving performance as well as using hardware and software resources more effectively. Doing so will require hardware improvements, performance trade-offs, and new network standards.

Increase system flexibility

The low-latency, high-reliability connections support every other possible use case we’ve included here. According to Qualcomm, seamless 6G can lead to “a unified platform that can take human immersion to the next level.”

This could involve gathering data sources from many different sensors to provide insights into what the human operator should do next, or it could lead to more extensive remote collaboration. Qualcomm calls this XR – Extended Reality.

XR is the kind of immersive, real-time digital space Google Glass developers once sought to create too, except powered by real-time, game-quality graphics. This is related to the augmented reality topic we discussed earlier, but it won’t work without the real-time and always-on processing of mobile devices that are enabled by 6G.

6G has a lot of potential. It remains to be seen how quickly this potential can be realized. Meanwhile, it’s still “just a concept” — albeit one that’s being actively explored. It is often spoken of in the same breath as the elusive metaverse. NTT, the founder of the mobile data standard that became known as 1G, is still in the game with its ultra-fast network.