Enhanced connectivity is driving global innovation and improving efficiency, communication, and sustainability in almost every industry. As it expands its reach around the world, 5G is accelerating these developments and constantly generating new and exciting use cases. But with the path to 6G already in motion, what is the future of connectivity?
The connectivity journey
Since 5G was first developed and implemented, the way people and industry interact with connected technology has continued to evolve. Today, nearly every sector has embarked on the journey to bridge the digital divide through connected devices. People expect anytime, anywhere connectivity, and sustainability by-design is becoming a key feature in leading technology solutions.
We expect Artificial Intelligence (AI) to operate and improve upon this connectivity. 5G will drive greater uptake of the Internet of Things (IoT) devices with higher data speeds, ultra-low latency and increased availability to deliver much of what we do today and will do in the future.
But the journey won’t be a linear one. 5G deployment varies dramatically across the globe, with some urban areas in developed countries enjoying comprehensive coverage and other rural or developing areas receiving little to no access. As a result, cellular generations will continue to coexist for some time, including in the UK, where only 16 million (out of 44 million) adults have a 5G phone. But scattered uptake isn’t slowing progress - Release 18 standard for 5G Advanced is already being finalised and 6G standards will start development in 2025 for a 2030 commercial launch.
The 6G revolution
When 6G lands in 2030, the impact will be immense - pushing the boundaries of connectivity in technologically advanced areas and driving untold innovation. 6G promises to enable increased energy efficiency, reach, resilience, and spectrum efficiency through multiple radio access technologies, including satellites and THz frequencies, as well as IR and visible light-based systems. 6G will be a living web of multi-functional networks and radios with pervasive network sensing and positioning services, as well as integrated AI.
Combining these capabilities, a 6G platform will fuse communication technologies, sustainability, AI, integrated sensing, and system resiliency - spelling the arrival of an immersive reality where digital, virtual and real worlds merge. Known as the metaverse, this 6G-powered world will enable new use cases with ubiquitous connectivity, lower latency, and highly reliable communications.
Three critical drivers for 6G
From this brief overview alone, it’s clear to see how 6G will set a new benchmark for connectivity - spearheading technological evolutions that will deliver significant benefits.
Three critical drivers are accelerating the need for 6G:
- The progress of technologies such as wireless, semiconductors, and quantum computing
- Society’s need for greater sustainability, consistent economic growth, and renewed efforts to bridge digital divides
- Access to innovation and use cases that cannot be achieved using 5G.
These drivers are encouraging renewed commitment to connectivity uplifts around the world, providing the final push to make 5G the minimum standard mode of connectivity. And with 5G more ubiquitous, economic development can accelerate, giving research institutions, academia, governments, and industry a stronger platform to define their direction to unlocking the power of 6G.
The roadmap to 6G
Like 5G, we can’t expect a straight route to 6G. Key requirements and design considerations need to be built into the journey and progress will vary for different industries and regions. Upcoming global 6G standards from 3GPP, the organisation that manages cellular standards, will help define this roadmap. Key features must include seamless integration and interoperability with fixed and satellite networks, as well as backward compatibility with 5G. Network simplification and energy reduction will also be key, alongside a new spectrum allocation – with 6G supporting all bands used by 5G and previous generations, as well as introducing new spectrum bands.
It’s a long and complex road but, as 6G continues to build on 5G technology, the destination is an exciting new world of near unlimited connectivity and potential.
If you are keen on the topic you could read this industry article ‘’Maxing out 5G on the path to 6G”, written for ‘Capacity’ telecommunications publication. The article examines how Communications companies can get the most out of current 5G networks before starting the journey to 6G and includes insight from myself and industry experts.