The telecom industry is considering a range of new technologies for the sixth generation of wireless technology, 6G, according to a new 6G wireless report from Telecoms.com.
One important new technology being studied is cell-free massive MIMO, which would move away from the cellular architecture used in earlier generations with the goal of eliminating interference between cells. The industry also is looking at using even higher-frequency spectrum bands, including terahertz (THz) bands.
Thirty-nine percent of telecom professionals responding to a survey cited “radically different network architecture (such as cell-free massive MIMO or smart radio environment)” as the “most fundamentally differentiating technology between 6G and 5G.”
The second most popular answer, cited by 31% of respondents, was “massively increased number of connected devices in a geographic cube (the so-called Internet of Everything).”
Twenty-eight percent of respondents pointed to the use of higher frequency bands as the biggest differentiator between 5G and 6G.
It’s worth noting that when 5G was first discussed, there was a lot of talk about using high-frequency millimeter wave spectrum. But while that spectrum supports the highest 5G speeds, carriers subsequently recognized the need to also use lower-frequency bands to gain broader coverage. Perhaps developers shouldn’t focus exclusively on higher-frequency bands as they plan 6G.
6G Wireless Report
Respondents had a range of views on when 6G standards efforts would begin and when the first 6G services would be available.
Just under half (49%) expect standards bodies to begin working on 6G in 2025-2026. Just over a quarter (26%) foresee a 2027-2028 start time, while 21% believe standardization efforts will begin “very soon” and 5% do not expect the efforts to begin until near the end of the decade.
Forty-four percent of respondents expect to see the first 6G commercial services go live by 2028. Slightly fewer (39%) said they expect services to go live by 2030, while 7% expect to see services “well before the end of the decade” and 9% do not expect to see them until the early 2030s.
The biggest engineering challenge that 6G presents, according to 40% of respondents, is “the extremely high computing demand on CPUs in a distributed cell-free massively MIMO network.”
One third of respondents expect the biggest challenge to be “a sub-optimal trade-off between hardware complexity and the radiation performance of an intelligent reflective meta-surface.” A reflective surface of that type is seen as critical to implementing cell-free networks.
Twenty-two percent see scalable power control in cell-free massive MIMO as the biggest challenge.
Power will be a key concern for 6G smartphones and other wireless devices as well.
Thirty-seven percent of respondents said the lack of a breakthrough battery technology would be the greatest challenge in developing 6G devices. As the 6G wireless report notes: “Before 3G was launched, industry experts warned that then-current batteries would not last as long as before. Yet, remarkably, customers have adapted, accepting one charge a day instead of one charge a week. However, if the battery on a 6G mobile device lasts only a few hours because of the heavy computational demands (both on the device and through network interaction), there could be a serious usability problem.”
The second most popular answer to the question about 6G device challenges, cited by 28%, was “developing new communication technologies for a cell-free decentralized network architecture,” followed by “mastering new wireless technologies on higher-frequency bands,” cited by 23%.
The 6G wireless report was based on a survey of 200 telecom industry professionals.