Development of what will become 6G networks is gathering pace, with a new Finnish consortium looking to speed up development of next generation radio technology and a Japanese-US alliance seeking to lead the standardisation of technology that will be essential for unmanned applications.
The development and deployment of 6G is viewed as a “trillion dollar opportunity” for the mobile industry, while technical leadership is increasingly a political priority for many governments around the world.
Although it is too early to predict the final form the 6G standard will take and which technologies will be included, there are some plausible assumptions about its capabilities and the challenges that operators, manufacturers and researchers face.
Naturally, 6G networks will deliver huge advances in speed, capacity, and low latency, while it is also expected they will be much more intelligent and reliable. This will deliver superior mobile broadband but also enable advanced services such as truly immersive extended reality (XR), high-fidelity mobile holograms and digital twins.
Central to these applications will be the ability of 6G to compensate for current constraints – such as the limited processing capability of mobile devices – and the integration of intelligence into the network.
If the most ambitious targets are met, then 6G will deliver 100 times the capacity of 5G and will be able to support 10 million devices per square kilometre.
Signals would extend 10,000 metres above the surface, enabling ‘3D coverage’ in the skies, space and underwater. All these capabilities would allow for intelligent sensing, positioning, edge computing, and high-definition imaging.
However, one of the biggest challenges is likely to be spectrum, with 6G using even higher frequencies in order to maximise the capacity gains, including at a 1THz and sub-THz level. It is radio technology and spectrum that is the focus of a new project in Finland.
The country has a long history in the development of Radio Access Network (RAN) technologies and wants to maintain this legacy as the industry shifts from 5G to 6G. The RF Sampo project comprises nine companies and three research organisations, including Nokia, Bittium, and the University of Oulu.
“Finland has a strong tradition in radio technologies which is in the core of wireless systems,” said Nokia’s Saila Tammelin, who serves as the industrial lead for the project. “RF Sampo targets strengthening Finland´s competitiveness in radio technologies while moving beyond industrial 5G and toward 6G.
“RF Sampo includes the development of radio subsystems, components, and algorithms. It also addresses the development of the ways of working that enable taking innovations into use faster, for example, by more efficient simulation and modelling methodologies. Solving challenges of more and more complex wireless systems calls for close R&D collaboration between companies and research organizations - to enlarge and renew the knowledge base and innovation capacity in Finland,”
RF Sampo will focus on making 6G radio technology as efficient as possible, harnessing the power of new frequency bands and antenna technologies, and create designs that will reduce 6G complexity. Specifically, it will investigate new RF technology for both 5G and 6G, including antenna structures, integrated circuits, new RF architectures, and algorithms.
Separately, Japan and the US will work together to commercialise technology for chip scale atomic clocks that will be essential to control and locate unmanned vehicles and drones in real time in a similar way to GPS. The hope is that the technology will be developed by 2025, and efforts will include a range of industries including the auto, mobile and timepiece sectors.
Given China will have a much greater influence over the development of 6G than previous generations of mobile connectivity Japan and the US hope to maintain leadership in standardisation.
- It will be a while before you can get your hands on 6G, so why not look at the best 5G phone deals instead?
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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.