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

by Ana Lopez

A session on the future of 6G at Mobile World Congress brought together expert speakers from companies such as Samsung, the European Space Agency and Telefonica to share their thoughts on what 6G will look like.

The first thing you will notice is that it does not arrive quickly. The projections are that people like you and me won’t get 6G in our hot little hands until about 2030, so it’s best to hold back your anger for now. That said, the prospect of a device streaming at least a terabyte of data to your eyeballs is enough to get our geeky hearts racing. We’re talking about 100 times the capacity of 5G, with delays of less than a millisecond.

Present on the panel were 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 Investigator , co-director, Telefónica Research).

When asked if they should choose just one of the most exciting aspects of 6G, the panel expressed differing opinions.

While most consumers may not have a problem, one aspect the panel was excited about was the significant reduction in power consumption over a 6G network. This would obviously mean that 6G could be deployed in a much wider range of scenarios than 5G, such as with IoT devices. Another was true edge computing applications and much greater cybersecurity.

One word that came up several times in the conversation was “convergence.” This was not, as I expected, conceived in technical terms, but in the sense of the convergence of the terrestrial and non-terrestrial (as in space) networks to provide seamless connectivity.

6G also promises more resilience between networks. Due to the amazing bandwidth of 6G, virtual education via XR headsets is likely to boom. This could, of course, provide a real boost to the UN’s sustainability goals (particularly 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 on an elevator? The hope is that 6G, with its ability to go from “2D to 3D” and much greater localization of devices, will solve that nagging problem.

Smart labeling in the 6G environment means that every kind of product is traceable. Yes, goodbye to privacy, but hello to utility, especially when it comes to things like inventory change logistics.

Smart cities, holographic encounters and 3D mapping were all covered during the session.

But which 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,” someone said.

Applications also include precision manufacturing with robotics, autonomous vehicle communication, and even brain-computer interfaces. “Kinetic content” and “AI-generated content” will be much more accessible on 6G networks, as well as “digital replicas.” For example, medical students could be trained using holographic patients, where they can safely make mistakes as often as necessary.

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 cyber-attacks via neural networks can be reduced by ppFL, where the system quickly learns to fend off an attack. Another example is where personal information about a hospital patient needs to be sent, but even anonymized data can pose a privacy risk. A Federated Learning system makes this possible.

But how can we realize this?

It seems that 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 seem – at least – prepared and ready for this brave new world…

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