6G: new business models for a new generation?


In today’s still-developing 4G and 5G world, numerous players are examining network slicing, private networks, massive IoT and other potential ways of growing revenues.

But what will they be looking at in 2030 (or thereabouts) when 6G rolls out? Can we, even now, assess viable business models for 6G?

Of course, as this series of blogs and the paper they are based on* point out, 6G will not just suddenly appear, fully formed, and sweep away everything that came before it. There will be many wireless technology advances, building on trends started by 5G, by the time we reach 2030.

Network slicing, private networks, and massive IoT should still be part of the business model discussion, even then, and possibly the metaverse, Web 3.0 or the internet of senses – if we can actually define them.

Closer to the real world, we’ll undoubtedly be much more familiar with artificial intelligence, machine learning, edge applications, VR and AR in a few years. Similarly, real-time entertainment or gaming and working from anywhere are not too difficult to understand and to visualise as part of 5G and the world beyond.

The problem here, however, is making these, and any other wonderful promise of 5G and 6G, pay. What will generate revenue? Will ordinary consumers drive growth? Or will 5G and 6G need to focus on managing services for business users to justify the expense of rollout?

And who will do the managing? Could private networks, at the moment managed and set up by operators, eventually be controlled by the vertical that uses them? It will take time: hiring people who understand the software and the hardware stack, the infrastructure, the services and applications will be necessary. But it could be a real threat to the status quo.

Better news for operators, perhaps, comes from the slow but sure realisation at local and regional government level that 5G and beyond could lower costs and improve care, support and more. Government-commissioned and operator-led smart healthcare, tourism or traffic management projects, say, could attract public funding to offset any operator investment.

Today we see users in some markets switch back from expensive 5G subscriptions towards 4G Advanced options. This shows operators that subscribers are taking care in evaluating coverage and service availability based on their experience expectations. New approaches to service delivery are needed; operators and vendors are already looking at innovation in the service layer: guaranteed levels of QoS and QoE for which customers may pay.

Not just making money but saving money will also be important. Network and spectrum sharing and selling of passive infrastructure are happening now or soon. So are moves towards energy efficiency. All have clear financial benefits. Virtualisation, open RAN and the cloud may be able to bring further savings. All of these considerations will be part of the ever-more challenging pursuit of viable business models, the total cost of ownership against value capture will shape significant elements of the business model.

As, we believe, will be our support. Being absolutely certain right now regarding a direction of 6G innovation and what services and technologies will drive 6G, and who will supply and manage them, would not serve our clients well. We create models of a future network for our clients, dimension it cost-effectively, and run a financial analysis across a number of years to see how it plays out and advise clients on the basis of possible future scenarios.

Whatever G we’re talking about, network strategy and planning will still be fundamental – and the unavoidable starting point for any business model.

*Future blogs will address some more of the issues raised by our paper The Road to 6G. The full paper is available here.