We’re entering an uncertain period when it comes to wireless technology. The cost of rollout, the demand for ever-higher speeds at ever-lower prices, spectrum availability, the challenge of establishing a business case: no one quite knows what will happen next. And that’s just 5G.
Who, then, would be foolish enough to attempt to predict what 6G will look like, let alone who will want it? Well, that is, to an extent, our job, and, as one of the few wireless consultancies led by technical, regulatory and economic experts, we are in a better position than most to discuss this issue.
Our recent paper on the subject is titled The Road to 6G and sub-headed ‘How the communications landscape is changing on the way to the next generation.’* That subhead is a clue to our approach. Where 5G is going now, and how various telecom industry players and consumer (and business) end users respond, will, to an extent, dictate what happens when 6G emerges.
So, let’s start with possibly the two most pressing questions of all at this very early stage: why bother? And does anyone actually want 6G?
Operators are already aware that many 5G services require greater network densification with little obvious gain – at least from the consumer market.
The consumer calculation becomes even more difficult with 6G. The latency-free 6G speeds of up to a terabyte a second that people are talking about are an attractive idea, but what about the spectrum and hardware to deliver it? And will consumers buy in? Real-time gaming and entertainment could be enabled by 6G and could be attractive to consumers, but both could be expensive as well. 5G – or even 4G – could be enough for most end users for at least another 20 years. And let’s not forget Wi-Fi.
In other words, if – and it’s still a big if – the technology, standardisation, regulatory and service delivery roadmaps are no obstruction, 6G could offer a lot – but the consumer market may be happy with what it has and unwilling to pay extra for a few more bells and whistles. And if that’s the case, why should operators make a major investment in 6G that has no guaranteed return?
That said, addressing the verticals market looks like a very promising avenue for operators – and verticals. Multiple industries would probably embrace a highly focused private 6G offering that could build on the usefulness of 5G to factories, ports and major enterprises in terms of both efficiency and automation.
But there’s a caveat. What if, by the mid-to-late 2030s, when 6G rolls out, verticals are experienced enough to run their own private networks – with such private networks possibly becoming part of the IT domain.
That said, the public sector looks like a promising market: government-driven 6G projects – healthcare, tourism, and traffic management, for example – could attract public funding and require operator expertise. But no two councils and governments think alike. How predictable is this market?
These are the questions that we are already asking and trying to answer. And they’re not the only ones. Standards, legacy networks, convergence, sustainability… the 6G concept is certainly an exciting one but it’s not going to simplify an already very complex wireless evolution roadmap.
*Future blogs will address some more of the issues raised by The road to 6G. The full paper is available here.