Technical Reviews

The brave new terabyte broadband world of 6G is coming, but not just yet

At a session on the future of 6G during Mobile World Congress, expert speakers from companies such as Samsung, the European Space Agency and Telefonica came together to give their views about how 6G will play out.

The first thing to note is that it’s not arriving anytime soon. The projections are that the likes of you and I will only get 6G into our hot little hands from around 2030 onwards, so it would be best to quell your ire for now. That said, the prospect of having a device streaming at least a terabyte of data into your eyeballs is enough to set our geeky hearts racing. We are talking about 100 times the capacity of 5G, with sub-millisecond latencies.

Present on the panel was Kimberley Trommler (head of Thinknet 6G, Bayern Innovativ GmbH), Yue Wang (head of 6G Research, Samsung Research UK), Xavier Lobao (head of Future Telecom Projects Division, European Space Agency) and Nicolas Kourtellis (principal research scientist, co-director, Telefónica Research).

Asked if they had to pick just one of the most exciting aspects of 6G, the panel gave various views.

Although perhaps not an issue in the minds of most consumers, one aspect the panel got excited about was the significant reduction in energy consumption. Obviously this would mean 6G could be deployable in a vastly wider array of scenarios than 5G, such with IoT devices. Another was real “edge computing” applications and far greater cybersecurity.

A word that appeared several times in the conversation was “convergence.” This was conjured not, as I expected, in engineering terms, but in the sense of the convergence of the terrestrial and the non-terrestrial (as in, space) networks to provide seamless connectivity.

6G also promises greater resilience across networks. Because of 6G’s astounding bandwidth, virtual education via XR headsets is likely to boom. This could, of course, mean a genuine boost to the UN Sustainable Goals (especially important in emerging economies).

The panel also highlighted how much more robust 6G networks will be from a consumer point of view. You know that thing where your signal cuts out when you get into an elevator? The hope is that 6G, with its ability to move from “2D to 3D” and far greater localization of devices, will fix that niggling issue.

Smart labeling in the 6G environment will mean any kind of product will be trackable. Yes, goodbye privacy, but hello to a lot of utility, especially in terms of things like supply change logistics.

Smart cities, holographic meetings and 3D mapping were all mentioned during the session.

But which one will be the “killer app” for 6G? Mentioned several times during the discussion was the metaverse, but arriving in 6G “in a more holistic way,” said one.

Applications will also include precision manufacturing with robotics, communications of autonomous vehicles and even brain computer interfaces. “Kinetic content” and “AI-generated content” will be vastly more accessible on 6G networks, as well as “digital replicas.” So, for instance, medical students could be trained by using holographic patients where they can safely make mistakes as many times as they need.

6G also promises the concept of “privacy-preserving federated learning” (ppFL), where multiple parties can train a single model without sharing their raw training data. For example, the potential for cyberattacks over neural networks could be mitigated by ppFL, where the system learns quickly to repel an attack. Another example is where personal information about a hospital patient needs to be sent, but even de-anonymized data can present a privacy risk. A federated learning system makes this possible.

But how can we make this happen?

It seems like the jump from 5G to 6G will be a lot easier than the switch from 3G to 4G. Much of the hard work has already been done, and the networks appear — at least — to be prepped and ready for this brave new world…

Read more about MWC 2023 on TechCrunch

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