Mobile™ World Congress 2018 has everyone buzzing about 5G. But 5G is so near-future. How boring! Surely, if we have any vision at all, we should be looking to what 6G and 7G could be offering us in a decade or two, especially for engineers who are already hard at work on these nascent technologies.
When it comes to mobile and wireless computing, like impatient toddlers, we’re always demanding more. More speed! More bandwidth! More ubiquitous connectivity! More potential! And although the term “continuous computing” has been bandied about for years, we’re only now just starting to see this happen.
Our mobile potential is enormous: Smart cities, connected infrastructure, wearable computers, autonomous driving, seamless virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, Internet of Machines and Things, and much more are still very much untapped. Only by looking ahead to 6G and 7G (take a breath) with space roaming do we get a glimpse of what may be possible in the next 10 to 20 years. Also, while 5G has yet to grace us with its presence, Google Trends rates the term “6G” as the 17th most searched word in the search engines (as of the time of this writing).
So, what’s in 6G that isn’t in 5G? Short answer: A lot of the things that just miss the 5G boat, plus a boatload of potential applications that sound like they come straight out of a sci-fi novel. I’m talking home-based ATM machines, sea-to-space communication for world defense, and even mind-to-mind communication. Yes—telepathy. It’s a thing, and a thing that will soon be based on telephony. Bam!
Assuming it pans out the way it’s currently being discussed, 6G will form the framework of that ever-elusive connected utopia—a fully-connected world of cheap, fast Internet service with wireless speeds of up to 11Gbps and the ability to tap satellite communication networks using specially designed nanoantennas. By comparison, today’s 4G technology only lets us get piddly download speeds of 5 to 12Mbps and upload speeds of 2 to 5Mbps, so we’re talking faster orders of magnitude.
This is good news for several application areas—including the Internet of Everything (IoE) and all its machine-to-machine communication demands as well as robotic and autonomous drone delivery and transport systems. It would also likely be the tipping point for technologies like “ultra-high-fidelity” virtual reality, which consumes about 50 times the bandwidth of a high-definition video stream and which doesn’t currently work well enough wirelessly to generate any real demand. Imagine, too, the impact 6G would have on autonomous vehicles, driver-assistance systems, car-Internet, infotainment, inter-vehicle information exchange, and vehicle pre-crash sensing and prevention, not to mention road sensors and smart traffic lights that optimize traffic flow.
The “wide” world would become more and more in reach as well. In the world of health care, remote diagnostics from doctors to patients (living in rural areas) would get significantly easier, and in equal measure, so would remote learning and education via mobile devices. Similarly, because 6th generation wireless mobile-communication networks would integrate satellites for global coverage, there would be very few (if any) mobile network dead spots. So, were you to live up a mountain or in some remote village in a jungle, you’d still have medical care and fantastic coverage, which is great news for those campaigning to close the digital divide.
In generations beyond 5G, network operators will be connected to one single core—a nanocore. Combined with artificial intelligence, this nanocore will transform the mobile and wireless service that we know today. Already, 7G has lofty goals, such as space roaming (with support from the global navigation satellite system, the telecommunication satellite system, the earth-image satellite system, and the 6G cellular system). The telecommunication satellite will be used for voice and multimedia communications; the navigational satellite will obviously be used for global positioning systems (GPS); and the earth-image satellites will provide us with closely up-to-the-minute weather updates and help with things like natural disaster preparedness. Needless to say, 7G should have absolutely no issue with data capacity coverage or bandwidth (no matter what tasks one throws at it).
When can we expect this awesomeness to happen? Analysts conservatively estimate the following timeframes: 2020 for 5G; 2030 for 6G; and 2040 for 7G. Of course, the optimists and the Ray Kurzweil followers among us know all about the “law of accelerating returns,” whereby human progress moves faster and faster as time goes on—so perhaps 6G and 7G will appear sooner than we think. Here’s to hoping! Because until I can play Crysis® in virtual reality against a friend telepathically, my life will remain very dull—indeed!