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Ofcom and UK MPs Support IET Call for New Approach to 6G Mobile

Wednesday, April 14th, 2021 (5:35 pm) - Score 3,600
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Senior Government MPs and Ofcom have backed a call by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) for the development of future 6G based mobile broadband technologies to prioritise societal benefits, instead of the usual focus on delivering “ever higher data [speeds] and ever higher spectrum bands.”

It’s traditional for the R&D of a new mobile technology to start just as the latest standard (5G) begins its deployment. But one issue with the race to 6G is that the latest 5G standard can already harness an extremely wide range of radio spectrum frequencies, which doesn’t leave as much room for practical advancement.

Equally, a lot of 5G mobile operators have broadly stuck to harnessing spectrum in the more traditional sub-6GHz bands, which is despite the technology being able to harness well into the millimetre wave area (e.g. 24-30GHz). Part of the reason for this is that mmW signals are so weak that they only really make sense if you build a dense urban network, which is very expensive, or for use on fixed wireless links to premises (a niche pursuit for most mobile operators).

All of this raises a challenge when it comes to developing a future 6G standard, since merely adding ever higher spectrum bands (e.g. Samsung has talked about harnessing the Terahertz band for peak speeds of 1Tbps) won’t do much to improve the economic viability vs practical coverage side of things for mobile operators. Put another way, why bother with THz, and its many technical coverage challenges, if there’s only limited appetite for that in the real-world market.

Instead, the IET believes that the focus of 6G should be on tackling “societal challenges,” such as sustainable economic growth, pandemics and climate change. In the practical sense, we assume this could mean a greater focus on energy efficiency and getting as much performance as possible out of existing mobile bands, but the report itself – 6G for Policy Makers – isn’t that specific.

Key IET Recommendations

1. The traditional approach to a next generation mobile technology – seeking ever higher data speed in ever higher spectrum bands – is no longer sustainable. A new approach to mobile generation change is needed in which 6G breaks out of this unsustainable business model.

2. A high ambition should be set for 6G, inspired by societal challenges such as sustainable economic growth, pandemics and climate change. To this end, 6G needs an adequate pre-standardisation research phase.

3. 6G should be the catalyst to bring everything that needs to be modernised at the same time. The principle justification for inclusion should be the need to sustain interoperability or secure global scale economies through a coordinated introduction of common standards.

4. The research phase of 6G needs to be guided towards building a consensus on the most promising lines of research. This is to secure scale while keeping the door open for ‘left field’ breakthrough discoveries. A promising candidate is the Internet of Senses; arising from the fusion of the physical, digital and non-physical worlds. The research phase should be viewed as a competition of ideas with the standards body pulling the best ideas into standardisation.

5. 6G should be planned and implemented as a rolling programme of improvements well into the late 2030s to smooth out the investment profile.

Role of governments and regulators

6. 6G initiatives offer a good framework for governments to consider the long-term goals for their national infrastructure. It should embrace digital and communications infrastructures and a future converge, fixed mobile world, in which mobility will always be an important component.

7. Governments need to engage with industry from the outset to shape the right conditions to sustain long-term research and, eventually, new investments in upgrading national infrastructures.

8. A successful 6G mobile infrastructure will need a supportive 6G spectrum policy. This especially needs to drive far more effective use of bands below 6GHz that are particularly suitable for wide area coverage.

9. The competitive market and industry will inevitably look vastly different 10 to 15 years from now. The most impactful benefit of 6G to consumers, and national economies, will come from regulation and 6G technology innovation developing in sync.

Modernisation of the standard’s body

10. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards body must modernise to meet the challenges of the next 10 to 15 years. Its founding fathers, the regional standards bodies, seem best placed to do this. The General Assembly of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute should be encouraged to initiate some early thinking on what reforms may be needed to global standardisation, so that 6G builds upon current excellence.

We agree with the broad strokes of what is being said above, although without a united global approach this may quickly turn into little more than wishful thinking, with other countries typically opting to ignore any grander purpose in favour of pushing their latest technologies forward. Equally, we don’t want to see innovation being hamstrung by politics or the debate turned into a succession of hyperbole like thinking.

The risk is thus that the development of 6G may become split by alternative approaches, much as older mobile technologies often were and that tends to hurt interoperability. But at the same time, it’s still true to say that the old approach has perhaps run its course. The other problem here is that this debate really needed to start two years ago, not after the starting guns on 6G had already been fired (particularly in China and South Korea).

Last year the ITU-R said they expected to begin the early work of constructing a new standard for 6G in 2021 and this could be completed “as early as2028, with commercial deployments following by 2030 or later.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
11 Responses
  1. Mark Scott says:

    Let’s work on 89% 5G coverage first before thinking about 6G otherwise the money grabbing providers will all rush to build out leaving customers without signal

  2. Buggerlugz says:

    There goes our substandard 5G down the pan then, onto the next thing….Its not like the 5G provided even did what it said on the tin. Still guess they’ll sell 6G exactly the same misleading customers in the same way.

  3. André says:

    6G won’t come for a decade. It takes that long to create standards, have them ratified by the industry and create the technology to make it all work.
    It’s perfectly reasonable to start thinking of the next generational leap a decade before it’s expected to be implemented.
    There’ll be plenty of time for 5G to expand and mature, guys. Don’t worry.

    The question is, of course, is there actually a NEED for 6G if (and when) 5G actually lives up to its expectations.

    1. Michael says:

      Exactly and the anti-5G crowd will need time to think up some whacky new conspiracy theories, I am genuinely interested to see what they come up with next.

  4. CSS says:

    6G capable phones will be out before the 6G is even launched, same as 8K TV’s were out even before the mainstream providers can offer good selection of 8K entertainment. I remember reading articles about 2012 London Olympics were Japan were trialling live broadcast in 8K back in Japan!

    I can see countries like S. Korea, Japan have these technologies rolled out as they are always on the bleeding edge and has the infrastructure to roll these out. In UK, lets get the 5G perfected and cover majority of the country, same goes to full fibre available nationwide before jumping into the bandwagon of 6G, lol

  5. Dave says:

    Not really sure what the goal of 6G will be, 5G is only really a latency improvement on 4G and even then it’s not a huge one in my experience.

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      Only because the carriers don’t want it to be.

    2. André says:

      It has the potential to be a huge bandwidth and capacity improvement, if that is the way the networks wish to deploy it.
      I agree that the use case for 5G at the moment is tenuous at best, I struggle to imagine what 6G can possibly bring to the table.
      But I’m not very imaginative and 10 years is a long time, who knows what we’ll be doing over wireless links by then…

    3. Lexx says:

      Currant 5g is non stand alone (nsa) it requires 4g for the 5g to work (current 5g uses 4g on upstream)

      Stand alone (Sa) is the real 5g and low latency up and down is 5g, I assume they are waiting for 5g700 band before they start using SA and we start getting low latency 5g

      but there are benefits for bandwidth using 4g+5g bonding witch most modern to high end phone modems support (x52 or higher I believe) can get actual real Close to 1000mbs on a mobile device

  6. Matt says:

    Ahh yeah another comment section full of “experts”. How about you let people that know more about the topic decide what to do. Research for new standard should be started as 5G is out meaning no significant technological change can be implemented to it. 6G is at least 8-10 years away, by that time 5G will be widely available.

    Also research for 6G doesn’t slow down 5G roll out. There is a huge difference between researching new technologies and implementing a technology in real life.

  7. Permanently Aggrieved Fruitcake says:

    WEE AL NO TAHTS 5GEE CORSED TEH COVAD-NIGHTEENS!

    6GEES WIL CORSE TEH SOOPAR COVAD-TWHENTEES!!

    ATS AL UH CONSPEERASEE BYE TEH EUSSR ANS TEH LEFTY WEFTYS TWO MACK Al AS BRITTASH MANS HAMOSESUALS!!!

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