Do we need 6G?

Do we need 6G?

It’s fair to say 5G hasn’t been the game-changing event smartphone manufacturers and network operators had expected.

A combination of conspiracy theories, Covid-19 restrictions on personal movement, a lack of compatible devices and the cost of 5G-enabled handsets have all stunted progress.

This has been exacerbated by legal challenges against Ofcom’s rollout of additional bandwidth, with a mere sliver of the 3.4GHz band currently available to use.

Further delays have stemmed from concerns that Huawei’s infrastructure was vulnerable to interference by the Chinese government, with hardware from rival firms like Nokia being adopted instead.

Even where 5G equipment is ready to be installed, one of the many unintended consequences of lockdown has been a dramatic reduction in installation and construction work.

As a result, major cities still have no 5G coverage from any of the UK’s big four mobile networks, while there’s little chance of enjoying 5G in suburban or rural districts.

That’s a shame, given 5G’s incredible potential – and the fact it could theoretically negate any need for a sixth generation of cellular connectivity.

Five alive

When 5G is fully rolled out, it will provide data throughput speeds far in excess of current home broadband connections.

Indeed, 5G might actually replace hardwired broadband services with a single go-anywhere connection for indoor and outdoor web-enabled devices.

While the centrepiece of 5G connectivity will be the 26GHz and 28GHz frequencies, data will eventually be distributed across a diverse array of wavebands.

A tower broadcasting signals at 600MHz could cover hundreds of square miles, while a lamppost-mounted 100GHz transmitter might only cover a hundred square yards.

Higher frequencies have lower range but distribute data far more rapidly, achieving connection speeds of gigabits per second (Gbps).

Low frequencies would guarantee coverage even in remote regions, while high frequencies would provide lightning-fast downloads and uploads in more densely-populated areas.

These 5G networks will be used not just by smartphones and tablets, but by the burgeoning Internet of Things – self-driving cars, remote surgical equipment, smart doorbells, and so on.

It’s hard to envisage a scenario where an always-available 5G network wouldn’t provide connectivity quickly enough (or dependably enough) for tomorrow’s technology.

And that calls into question the need for a network which can offer anything more.

Six appeal?

A 6G network could undoubtedly achieve ludicrously fast rates of data transfer.

Earlier this year, Samsung claimed 6G may deliver data speeds of terabits per second, with latency of one ten-thousandth of a second.

But when 5G is already capable of delivering download speeds of 20Gbps and latency of one millisecond, do we really need more?

The International Telecommunication Union began researching that question earlier this year, but the first findings of this UN agency won’t be announced for two years.

Even if a case for 6G does develop, it won’t be commercially available for at least a decade.

In the meantime, 5G should be more than sufficient – once it’s fully rolled out…

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