It’s no secret that the tech industry is advancing incredibly fast. Advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Automation, Robotics, 3D printing, Blockchain and wireless communication protocols, such as 4G and 5G, have driven the pace of development.
Technology-driven progress has allowed companies to enhance their processes and develop new disruptive technology products and services. Such advances allow for creative solutions based on customer feedback and market needs. This significantly improves the customer experience and customer satisfaction levels.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of technological advancements is that they change how we interact with each other and the wider world. With the latest technological advances, people can reach out to each other faster. Previously, we had to wait for days for a letter (snail mail) to reach its destination. Today, email systems allow people to send information within seconds. Wireless communications, such as instant messaging and video chats, enable worldwide connectivity.
4G has been with us for some time, and I think it’s fair to say that we take its capabilities for granted, expecting the services we rely on to just work! Only when we have a loss in service, do we bother to look at the top of our cellphone screens to see if we have a strong enough signal or not.
5G, once widely available, will significantly improve the technology and services we consume today, but 5G can only take our experiences and expectations so far. Once network communications evolve, what then?
What Is 6G?
So, what exactly is 6G? Is it just another name or marketing catchphrase? The answer is no. As the name implies, 6G technology is the sixth generation of wireless technology that will improve and enhance our current mobile network infrastructure through greater optimization and higher data transfer speeds. The new technology will use a higher frequency spectrum than 5G and is expected to provide lower latency and higher bandwidth capacities.
Essentially, the new technology will improve the performance of current communication standards to such a degree that it will revolutionize the technology industry. With enhanced communication capabilities, we will experience a technological revolution affecting all industries, including healthcare, finance, transportation and education. (Also Read: Into the Future: The Outlook for Tech Careers)
Advances in healthcare will lead to faster diagnostic procedures, allowing doctors to provide prompt and accurate treatment to patients. The finance industry will benefit from low latency and high-speed financial transactions. The transportation industry will also benefit from the technology, as 6G network speeds will enable self-driving cars and other autonomous vehicles to proliferate.
Gigahertz Wi-Fi: The Evolution
The Gigahertz network evolution is quickly accelerating and is paving the way for the future. Today, broadband cellular networks offer more capabilities than ever; with 5G spreading across the Americas, Asia, and EMEA regions, the next generation of cellular networks is on the horizon.
Wireless systems of the future are expected to dramatically improve current wireless capabilities in network throughput, IoT connectivity, latency (one to ten milliseconds), reliability, availability, energy efficiency and security. 6G is expected to achieve a 1000x improvement in network throughput compared to 5G technology, allowing millions of smartphones to stream high-definition video simultaneously.
As the cellular network evolves, it’s crucial to understand how these communication technologies have changed over time.
The first generation of wireless networks that enabled portable cellular network devices was developed in the 1980s and introduced the world to wireless data networks, focusing mainly on voice communication. The network speed was plodding compared to today’s internet speeds.
The second generation of wireless networks arrived in 1990/91 and brought with it some wireless data services that enabled us to connect to the Internet via mobile devices, still very slowly. Two iterations of 2G were introduced: 2.5 and 2.75, with data rates between 56kb/s-115kb/s and 384kb/s, respectively. WAP, MMS, and SMS were some of the services available for mobile devices at that time.
The third generation of wireless technology that supported transitions from data carriers to data users was introduced in 2004/05. 3Ghz or 3G improved upon its predecessor by adding features such as video calling, mobile TV, location-based services, and faster data transfer speeds, from 8-20Mbps. As the world started to rely on mobile networks for internet use and communication, the industry had to improve on technology to cope with higher demand, which meant 3.5 and 3.75 became available, bringing mobile email and person-to-person gaming.
In 2009, the fourth generation of wireless technology enabling us to send messages and stream movies to mobile devices went live. This technology brought with it the ability to download and upload files faster than 3G phones and handle simultaneous voice and data calls. 4G phones can (with a full signal) download files in just a few seconds.
The fifth generation of wireless technology promises faster speeds, reduced latency, and increased connections, leading to many more devices connected simultaneously. In addition to increased speed and reliability. 5G networks will enable many new gadgets and IoT sensors to be connected worldwide with breakneck mobile data speeds. It will provide reliable wireless connectivity for more users in more locations.
The sixth generation of wireless technology is projected to advance the capabilities of the latest 5G networks and offer enhanced coverage, improved functionality, and ultra-fast mobile data speeds. It is expected to support billions of IoT devices worldwide and enable people to enjoy applications such as Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR).
How Fast Will 6G Networks Be?
6G is expected to be incredibly fast; data speeds up to 1Tbps — at least 1000 times the speed of 5G connections available today. Imagine downloading a two-hour movie in one to three seconds. That’s the sort of speed we can expect from 6G.
6G will operate using millimeter wave frequencies — radio frequencies with wavelengths shorter than one millimeter using signals at the higher end of the radio spectrum. A senior lecturer at the University of Sydney suggested a theoretical peak data rate of 1Tbps. LG unveiled this type of technology based on adaptive beamforming in 2021.
One thing is for sure; it will surpass anything we’ve experienced so far.
When Will 6G Come Out?
Before 6G can get off the ground, there is a high dependency on new infrastructure to support the terahertz-based wireless communications network. Over the next five to ten years, fleets of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites will be launched into space. These LEO satellites will form a global infrastructure. They will be the first to allow extremely high frequencies to be beamed down from space and then retransmitted onto terrestrial base stations. This will allow connectivity anywhere on earth, even in hard-to-reach rural or remote regions where no cellular signals are currently transmitted.
The Chief Executive Officer of Nokia, Pekka Lundmark, has predicted smart gadgets will be implanted into human bodies within the next eight years as technological innovations evolve into the sixth generation network.
Lundmark said that by 2030 the 6G network will replace the 5G wireless connection. “By then, the smartphone as we know it today will not be the most common interface. Many of these things will be built directly into our bodies.”
Although it’s difficult to predict precisely how long it will take before 6G becomes a reality, current estimates are around 2030. Each technological step, innovation or eureka moment could bring 6G earlier than expected.
Potential Applications for 6G
Those high speeds, low latencies and broader bandwidth I touched on will benefit a wide range of industries and organizations, including manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, finance and all other sectors of society. We may soon see smart cities. We can also expect to see improvements in artificial intelligence, thanks to the greater processing power of 6G wireless networks and AI-enabled devices.
The use of robotics in healthcare is set to become commonplace in the next five to ten years. While robotics are already a minor part of some procedures, wireless communication with robots, other devices and telepresence will change the way we view healthcare. IoT-connected devices, such as health monitors, will transmit crucial information in real-time, enabling doctors to deliver expert care remotely. (Also Read: What are some key ways that the IoT is affecting health care?)
Holographic communications would enable Doctors to bring back house calls and reach patients in out-of-the-way locations. Education could see more classes being delivered remotely using virtual reality. We could even attend holographic conferences and meetings overseas without increasing our carbon footprint. (Also Read: The Future of Remote Work: New Technologies to Watch)
Self-driving cars will be able to receive and send large amounts of data instantly, and virtual reality applications will become more realistic thanks to faster response times.
With faster speeds and excellent processing capability, companies will be able to innovate rapidly to stay ahead of the competition.
But it doesn’t stop there; augmented reality will be mainstream, imaging and telepresence technology will become even more advanced than before, robots will become more autonomous and be able to communicate with other devices to perform complex tasks. Some of these applications are already with us today, but some may not come to fruition for a few years, but that’s the beauty of innovation — you never quite know what the future holds!
As the Canadian science-fiction writer William Gibson said: “The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
6G technologies will have a profound effect on our digital world. Advanced facial recognition, drones, autonomous vehicles and healthcare technologies are only the tip of the iceberg. Communication between machines is expected to improve further as the development of AI increases. Soon, devices will be able to communicate with each other and coordinate tasks with no human intervention. (Also Read: 5 Technologies Changing Healthcare in 2022)
The convergence of technologies means we are entering an era where communications between devices will be as instantaneous as human-to-human communication. Whether this is good, bad or somewhere in the middle remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it is coming! It’s only a matter of time before Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning converge with 6G. Will this be the start of an artificial consciousness across the World Wide Web?