Will the world be ready for 6G technology in 2030?
It is the fourth decade of the twenty-first century. The jobs market has been transformed. Some jobs, like travel agents, fast-food workers, financial advisers, or drivers, have almost disappeared. Other like pilots, teachers, doctors, lawyers, or programmers were vastly redefined. The last major communication incident was years ago and traffic jams or public transportation delays are faded memory. Your brand new personalized treadmill has just been delivered to your doorsteps by a drone. Right in time, since you have sent and discussed your last designs through holo-bridge yesterday and checked on your uncle who has just undergone an open heart surgery without leaving his village. It all went smooth and the best New York-based medical team was able to switch to another task with no delays. Simply the world has become a safer place because of the automation of transportation, manufacturing, and advancements in medical diagnosis and treatment.
We are more creative than ever and have reoriented on what and how we learn. We are also able to reach one another from every place on the Earth, sharing close to face-to-face meeting experiences. Does it all sound like science fiction? This is how the world may look like 10 to 15 years from now, thanks to advances in data processing systems expanded by the 6G technology.
To achieve the world we have just imagined we will need to send and process huge volumes of data — we are talking here about hundreds of exabytes per month. Thus, a communication network, the circulatory system of today’s world, must adapt to the world of the future. Nowadays we are at the initial stages of a rollout of 5G networks across the globe. If you want to know more on 5G there is a great post by Dominik Ogrodnik discussing real-life use cases for that technology, but in this post, I will try to summarize key trends driving the need for 6G, challenges, and enabling technologies as envisioned by the 6G-related research community.
Internet of Everything (IoE) and Pervasive Connectivity are the key trends that in the common perception of researchers will drive the need for 6G services.
Internet of Everything (IoE)
IoE expands the scope of the Internet of Things (IoT) to form a hyper-connected world that brings together people, data, things, and processes. It integrates various sensing devices that extend “everything” with identification, monitoring and decision making, or action-taking capabilities. IoE market size expands quickly — it is expected to be between 24 billion and 500 billion devices and worth at least $1.5 trillion by 2030.
There are multiple applications that IoE enables, including:
- IoE can enhance power grids with capabilities to detect outages, monitor quality of service or fine-grained consumption, predict and react to power demands, thus optimizing energy consumption and reducing overall environmental and financial costs to a bare minimum.
- IoE can transform the industry into an efficient ecosystem where people work alongside robots and smart machines that take care of tedious, repetitive, or risky tasks.
- IoE can help to deliver autonomous transportation with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAV).
- IoE can improve eHealth using personalized body area networks with the capability of health monitoring and management, remote medicine, and telesurgery. This is extremely important in the era of population aging in various parts of the globe(the elderly population will double by 2050 according to WHO).
- The extensive sensing capabilities can allow for creating digital twins which are digital fine-grained replicas of physical entities. These replicas can be then used for remote diagnosis, fault protection or simulation.
According to Cisco, mobile data traffic has increased 7-fold from 2016 to 2021 and represents 20% of total IP traffic, up from 8% of total IP traffic in 2016. We may also expect further dynamic growth of mobile data traffic beyond 2021 as the density of mobile connections will be 107 devices per km2 in 2030. Furthermore, the human-machine interfaces of the future apps will generate tons of data and require terabit data rates and extremely high availability. This is especially true for apps in the following areas:
- Extended Reality (XR) – it is a new term that combines Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR). XR solutions are applicable in telemedicine, flying vehicles, and connected control systems, entertainment, education, and manufacturing;
- Brain-Computer Interactions (BCI) – BCI applications are currently limited to specific healthcare scenarios. However, in the future, they might revolutionize healthcare, entertainment, and introduce new ways people interact with their environment.
- Holographic Telepresence – it is a next-generation media technology that can project realistic, full-motion, real-time 3D images of remote people and objects. This technology might reduce the need for travel and enable remote surgery or distant learning.
Key challenges ahead of 6G
Future demand on the network is defined by its Machine-to-Machine (M2M) components as well as emerging human interfaces (including Extended Reality or Holographic Telepresence). Both are coming with different communication patterns. On the one hand, M2M capable devices constitute 50% of all connected devices yet generate only 5% of the IP traffic. On the other hand, H2M communication requires steady, secured, and guaranteed transfer pipes to support huge data streams.
To support the above-mentioned use cases, communication networks will need to deal with a vast amount of data and be able to deliver data with a data rate of up to 1Tbps and under 0.1ms air latency. Future networks will also need to support up to 107 devices/km2 and be extremely reliable (99.99999%) while supporting moving clients (with up to 1000 kmph speed).
In addition, the future network needs to be a platform that delivers fully distributed computation capabilities (comprising cloud, fog, and edge) to compensate for used-end computation limitations. It also has to sustain various malicious attacks. Additionally, access to data in transit and at rest must be controlled and all privacy policies must be enforced to prevent data leakage. Finally, future networks should employ solutions that do not dramatically worsen our carbon footprint.
6G enabling technologies
To address these challenges, we need wider adoption of existing technologies and invent new ones. The capacity demands push us to use THz bounds, visual light, or quantum communication, as well as invent new types of antenna/surfaces that can support indoor communication. Moreover, we will need to learn how to optimize bandwidth, computation power, and energy use at the network edge to support all human and machine clients.
To ensure global coverage we have to move toward 3D networks that merge terrestrial (e.g., fiber, radio) with non-terrestrial networks (UAVs swarms, high altitude platforms, and satellites). On top of that, we need to be able to identify network users and deliver resources according to their service level agreements. Thus, the 6G network must be self-sustaining, which means that it will manage, optimize, heal, and protect itself without human intervention while integrating services from various providers.
That requires full network automation and virtualization (network-slicing), use of cloud and edge computation techniques, as well as M2M business software (leveraging API-first solutions. Last but not least, 6G will not exist without AI/ML algorithms at its core and the edge, which has a wide range of applications, from radio signal optimization to security threads prevention.
Is 2030 a plausible date for 6G rollout?
6G internet is expected to launch commercially in 2030. It is not even 10 years from now, which raises several questions. Will we be able to overcome the challenges ahead of 6G in this time? Will operators manage to realize the 5G technology return on investments? And finally, will people be interested in switching from 5G to 6G so soon?
In Amartus, we believe that in upcoming years we will rather observe a gradual march towards 6G than a big-bang event in 2030. Yet, the enablers and capabilities of 6G can help to realize 5G promises and go beyond them even today – thus we should continuously look at how to utilize them.
Regardless of how 6G will arrive there, one thing is certain — the future of communication relies heavily on software. And as a telecommunication software company, we are thrilled that we can help shape the future.
If you have more time, I encourage you to read through the 6G research papers listed below on your own. They were of great help while I was working on this post. I suggest you start from “Survey on 6G Frontiers…” – it is the most comprehensive one on the list.
- C. D. Alwis et al., “Survey on 6G Frontiers: Trends, Applications, Requirements, Technologies and Future Research,” IEEE Open Journal of the Communications Society, vol. 2, pp. 836–886, 2021, doi: 10.1109/OJCOMS.2021.3071496.
- F. B. Saghezchi, J. Rodriguez, Z. Vujicic, A. Nascimento, K. M. S. Huq, and F. Gil-Castiñeira, “Drive Towards 6G,” in Enabling 6G Mobile Networks, Ed.J. Rodriguez, C. Verikoukis, J. S. Vardakas, and N. Passas Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2022, pp. 3–35. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-74648-3_1.
- S. Research, “6G the next hyper-connected experience for all (White Paper),” 2021-07-29. https://research.samsung.com/next-generation-communications
- Global – 2021 Forecast Highlights, Cisco, Accessed at 2021-12-09, https://www.cisco.com/c/dam/m/en_us/solutions/service-provider/vni-forecast-highlights/pdf/Global_2021_Forecast_Highlights.pdf
- M. Giordani, M. Polese, M. Mezzavilla, S. Rangan, and M. Zorzi, “Toward 6G networks: Use cases and technologies,” IEEE Communications Magazine, vol. 58, no. 3, Art. no. 3, 2020.
- W. Saad, M. Bennis, and M. Chen, “A vision of 6G wireless systems: Applications, trends, technologies, and open research problems,” IEEE network, vol. 34, no. 3, Art. no. 3, 2019.