6G Standards and Market Development

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1Q 2021 | IN-6098

The race to the commercial launch of 5G started in 2019. Many countries worldwide have deployed their 5G networks, with the leading countries including South Korea, China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Finland, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, and Germany. On the other hand, initiated by certain network operators such as Rakuten Mobile, Vodafone, Telefónica, Deutsche Telekom, and Orange, Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) is also gaining momentum. By disaggregating software from hardware and opening fronthaul interfaces, the open network targets unlocking the telco supply chain, which is dominated by a handful of incumbent vendors, and introducing more flexible and agile multi-vendor interoperable solutions. In addition to these primary activities, academia and industry have also started envisioning and planning the 6th Generation (6G) of wireless technologies for the 2030s.

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Current Activities and Timeline

NEWS


The race to the commercial launch of 5G started in 2019. Many countries worldwide have deployed their 5G networks, with the leading countries including South Korea, China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Finland, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, and Germany. On the other hand, initiated by certain network operators such as Rakuten Mobile, Vodafone, Telefónica, Deutsche Telekom, and Orange, Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) is also gaining momentum. By disaggregating software from hardware and opening fronthaul interfaces, the open network targets unlocking the telco supply chain, which is dominated by a handful of incumbent vendors, and introducing more flexible and agile multi-vendor interoperable solutions. In addition to these primary activities, academia and industry have also started envisioning and planning the 6th Generation (6G) of wireless technologies for the 2030s.

Building upon the standardized 5G and Open RAN solutions, 6G would offer a new paradigm shift from data-driven to service-centric communications. On top of improving the existing service performance, data security, user perception and trust, and energy sustainability would be the key features that make 6G a completely new system, rather than just a better 5G. Many theoretical studies and field tests have been conducted to consolidate 6G application use cases. The companies involved in these activities are proactively engaging in potential technologies development, aiming to significantly influence the standards and drive the market megatrends from a business perspective. According to the time frame of previous generations of wireless technologies, ABI Research expects the commercial deployment of 6G will happen around 2028 to 2029, with the early standards expected for 2026.

6G Megatrends and Candidate Technologies

IMPACT


It is envisaged that 6G will provide the ultimate experience for humans and connect various things. In comparison with 5G, 6G will provide much higher data rates for applications, like Extended Reality (XR) and holographic communications, establishing a mixed real-and-virtual environment with either Real-Time (RT) or non-RT human-machine interactions. Moreover, the full self-organizing and ad hoc networking, driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML) technologies, also enable different wireless devices to interconnect without relying heavily on the conventional network infrastructure, therefore reducing the cost and time of network installation with the extended communication coverage. It is also foreseen that 6G will support a much higher number of wireless nodes to connect with the Internet than 5G. These devices, including wearable equipment, mobile cameras, monitoring sensors, surface displays, and many others, will create a diverse communication environment to offer smart, heterogeneous, and highly integrated wireless network services. In summary, 6G would create a ubiquitous connectivity environment and allow various devices to create, share, and process all meaningful data anywhere and anytime.

To realize these scenarios, several key technologies need to be well developed for standardizations. THz technology is a promising solution to support several gigabits per second average rate for high-definition XR and holographic communications. However, to get the full accessible benefits of THz technology, a handful of challenges need to be overcome. The most prominent one is the communication coverage, where massive MIMO and Reconfigurable Intelligent Surface (RIS) can help to a certain extent. Moreover, In-Band Full-Duplex (IBFD) technology is also critical to compensate for the inherent drawbacks of ad hoc/mesh networks, i.e., multi-hop time delay and low transmission data rate. Enabling efficient IBFD, on the other hand, requires well-designed co-channel interference mitigation algorithms and cost-effective hardware processing capability. AI/ML has already been a hot topic in the 5G era. Such technology combined with distributed computing in 6G can help manage and process the ever-increasing data volume and complicated network operations to meet dynamic wireless connectivity needs, where data synchronization and rules for fairly using the resource are noticeable challenges that need to be solved promptly.

Other Concerns and the Road to Success

RECOMMENDATIONS


Apart from the above raised technical challenges, some other concerns may also need to be carefully addressed before 6G can reach its full maturity. First and foremost, hardware limitations may stop network operators from offering sustainable and cost-effective solutions with advanced wireless technologies. The processing complexity and energy consumption of both device and infrastructure are the two impact factors that create the barrier. Moreover, efficient dynamic spectrum sharing and distributed computing resource allocation policies are also the keys to improve network operational efficiency and performance. Furthermore, security and user privacy form another concern. With the advent of big data, cloud-native architecture, AI/ML, distributed computing, and open-source network virtualization, 6G network will be more vulnerable to security and privacy threats, considering the increased attack surface due to the openness of the system.

Many industrial players have already shown great interest in developing potential applications and technologies for 6G in the community. It is envisioned that proactively developing advanced technologies can benefit network service innovations and help key stakeholders reshape the 6G framework and business focus. On the other hand, it is worth noting that anchoring new services on existing infrastructure can help form a smooth economic transition to the latest technologies. To accelerate network innovations, standardization bodies and relative authorities will also play an important role by advocating for the community-based development model. With the emergence of the open virtualized network and modular approach, they should be more open to adopting different technologies rather than highly relying on big vendors’ solutions.

With the great achievement of previous wireless generations and ultra-high demand for connectivity, ABI Research believes this is the right time for industrial companies, academic researchers, and standardization bodies to work together to envision and plan potential technologies for 6G. Such actions will help them build the foundation for system designs that will take connectivity to a higher speed than copper.

 

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