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ITU Sets Framework for Future 6G Mobile Broadband Standard

Saturday, Dec 2nd, 2023 (12:01 am) - Score 2,360

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has today published the first framework for the future 6G mobile (mobile broadband) and wireless networking technology (IMT-2030), which will support the development of related standards and radio interface technologies. The framework also reveals more about its potential capabilities.

At present the 6G standard is still in the early R&D phase and most observers don’t expect to see the first commercial builds until around 2030 (some countries expect field trials in 2028). But in the recent past there has been talk of it aiming for theoretical peak data rates of up to 1Tbps (Terabits per second) – or 1,000Gbps (Gigabits) – and harnessing radio spectrum up to the TeraHertz (THz) bands, while also using AI optimisations, new antenna designs and changes to boost network efficiency.

NOTE: Terahertz (THz) radiation is more widely defined as the region of the electromagnetic spectrum (EM) in the range of 100GHz (3 mm) to 10THz (30 μm) – between the millimetre and infrared frequencies. By comparison, 5G was designed to work between 450MHz and 52GHz, with top theoretical speeds of up to 20Gbps.

However, hitting such speeds in the real-world is a much bigger challenge, due to various reasons, such as the highly variable mobile environment (weather, buildings, trees and device choice all impact signal quality). Not to mention the high cost of needing to deploy an extremely dense and complex network, which is needed to help overcome the huge problems with weak signals and other obstacles (e.g. building lots of masts often upsets people).

In addition, many mobile operators, such as Three UK, Vodafone, EE (BT) and O2 (VMO2), still prefer to harness lower frequencies in order to ensure good coverage and greater economic viability. Mobile bands in higher frequencies are generally weaker and don’t travel as far, but they can carry more data due to an excess of spectrum frequency (good for urban areas and fixed wireless links).

What’s in the ITU’s 6G Framework?

The details of the 6G framework are contained in Recommendation ITU-R M.2160 on the “IMT-2030 Framework” approved by the ITU Radiocommunication Assembly (RA-23) at its recent meeting in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. However, the framework isn’t so much a standard as a guide to help explain – very roughly – what 6G aims to achieve, as well as the kind of changes that may be necessary to deliver on that.

Mario Maniewicz, Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau

“Terrestrial wireless systems to be developed under IMT-2030 are expected to drive the next wave of innovative radiocommunication systems, promote digital equity and advance universal connectivity. The publication of the Recommendation on future 6G mobile technologies is a testament to ITU’s longstanding multi-stakeholder approach which ensures the development of globally accepted technical and regulatory solutions.”

The reality is that we’ll have to wait until the first draft standards before being able to get a fuller idea of what 6G will aim to deliver over its lifespan (the top performance could take years to achieve post-deployment), but the new framework does at least provide some very rough hints. For example, it confirms that IMT-2030 is envisaged to utilize a wide range of frequency bands ranging from sub-1 GHz up to frequency bands above 100GHz.

A series of propagation measurement activities are currently being carried out in frequencies above 100GHz under several different environments (such as outdoor urban and indoor office). The ITU-R is currently developing a report on the technical feasibility of IMT technologies in bands above 92GHz, including coverage, link budget, mobility, impact of bandwidth and needed capabilities to support new use cases of IMT.

The framework also includes some estimated targets for research and investigation of IMT-2030, which are naturally aiming for something a fair bit greater than that of IMT-2020 (5G). We’ve pasted some of the most relevant bits of information below.

NOTE: Energy efficiency is also expected to be improved appropriately with the capacity increase in order to minimize overall power consumption.

Potential Capabilities of IMT-2030

1) Peak data rate

Maximum achievable data rate under ideal conditions per device.

Values of 50, 100, 200 Gbit/s are given as possible examples applicable for specific scenarios, while other values may also be considered.

2) User experienced data rate

Achievable data rate that is available ubiquitously across the coverage area to a mobile device.

Values of 300 Mbit/s and 500 Mbit/s are given as possible examples, while other values greater than these examples may also be explored and considered accordingly.

3) Spectrum efficiency

Spectrum efficiency refers to average data throughput per unit of spectrum resource and per cell.

Values of 1.5 and 3 times greater than that of IMT-2020 could be a possible example, while other values greater than these examples may also be explored and considered accordingly.

4) Area traffic capacity

Total traffic throughput served per geographic area.

Values of 30 Mbit/s/m2 and 50 Mbit/s/m2 are given as possible examples, while other values greater than these examples may also be explored and considered accordingly.

5) Connection Density

Total number of connected and/or accessible devices per unit area.

The research target of connection density could be 106 – 108 devices/km2.

6) Mobility

Maximum speed, at which a defined QoS and seamless transfer between radio nodes which may belong to different layers and/or radio access technologies (multi-layer/multi-RAT) can be achieved.

The research target of mobility could be 500 – 1 000 km/h.

7) Latency

Latency over the air interface refers to the contribution by the radio network to the time from when the source sends a packet of a certain size to when the destination receives it.

The research target of latency (over the air interface) could be 0.1 – 1 ms.

8) Reliability

Reliability over the air interface relates to the capability of transmitting successfully a predefined amount of data within a predetermined time duration with a given probability.

The research target of reliability (over the air interface) could range from 1-10−5 to 1-10−7

At this stage it’s a bit tricky to do a comparison with 5G because we don’t yet know precisely what the 6G standard will end up adopting, but we recall that 5G set a minimum standard for peak data rates of 20Gbps (download) and 10Gbps (uplink) – this is of course shared capacity and not for individual user connections.

The old 5G target values for the end-user experienced data rates in a Dense Urban (eMBB) environment were also 100Mbps for the downlink and 50Mbps for the uplink. Likewise, 5G aimed to deliver an ideal latency time (measured in milliseconds, where smaller figures are faster) of 4ms in eMBB environments and down to just 1ms on fixed wireless (URLLC) connections.

Suffice to say that 6G is aiming a fair bit higher than all of these and the ITU has set out some examples of what this extra performance could mean. Now brace yourselves for the usual hype train, but remember that a lot of this stuff is just as possible under a modern and well-equipped 5G and even some 4G networks.

Expected usage scenarios for 6G include:

➤ Immersive communication to provide a rich and interactive video experience for users.

➤ Hyper-reliable and low-latency communication to enable the scale-up of intelligent industrial applications including telemedicine and management of energy and power grids.

➤ Enhanced ubiquitous connectivity, especially in rural, remote and sparsely populated areas with the aim of bridging the digital divide.

➤ Massive communication to include expanded use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and applications in smart cities, intelligent transport systems and sectors such as health, agriculture, energy and environmental monitoring.

➤ Artificial intelligence (AI) and communications to support AI-powered applications.

➤ Integrated multi-dimensional sensing to improve assisted navigation, and high-precision positioning including object and presence detection, localization, imaging and mapping.

For the next phase of 6G’s development, companies and industry associations will submit proposals for the IMT-2030 Radio Interface Technology (RIT) for ITU-R consideration in early 2027. These submissions will then be evaluated against the agreed minimum requirements prepared by ITU’s expert group on IMT systems (ITU-R Working Party 5D), with the prospect of getting a final set of 6G technology standards approved by 2030.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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14 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Mark Smith says:

    For goodness sakes, why dont they just focus on providing truly ubiqtous coverage everywhere as well as capacity through densification instead of yet more headline grabbing ‘G’.
    What current cellular use cases are there which require more than 100Mbs and latency of less than 20mS.
    Now if everyone could get 100Mbs everywhere and consitently, that would be a thing.
    If you truly need ultra high throughout and ultra low latency over short distances in say an industrial environment than Wi-Fi is the way to go, partioulalrly with the upcoming WiFi 7.

    1. Avatar photo 125us says:

      Because the ITU is a standards body. They don’t own or operate networks.

    2. Avatar photo Billy Shears says:

      I agree, it’s getting bonkers. We need coverage, both area and the ability to pass through walls, higher frequencies fail in both respects.

    3. Avatar photo Me says:

      I say this all the time, but it’s like with fibre broadband as long as you have one provider who covers you then that’s good enough, doesn’t matter if the same provider is rubbish or none existent elsewhere though. But it’s 2024 nearly and still in this country we do not reliable coverage everywhere from anyone. Plenty of nimby’s out to block masts though let’s not forget which heavily impacts on coverage.

    4. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      @Me, you say Nimby’s block mast, but would you want some of these masts outside your window? Some of them are pretty large, much different to a pole. Around here it is our council who have blocked masts as the height of some of them are over the top.

  2. Avatar photo Lister says:

    Technology doesn’t wait on its evolution for the slowest operators and adopters in certain countries to catch up their coverage and demands. But remember, this is for a standard due in 2030. 6 years down the road.

  3. Avatar photo Lexx says:

    Due to standalone not being mandated from the beginning on 5g the upstream is 4g still

    most of the time on ee 5g hardly ever switches to 5g, it shows 5g box but doesn’t change to solid 5g box to show its using 5g (it’s using 4g for both down and upload, just saying 5g is available but not connected)

    Vodafone/3 doesn’t even show the box it just says 5g (regardless if it’s actually using it or not)

    Unsure about O2 don’t have a sim on that network

  4. Avatar photo William Wilkinson says:

    When your phone connects to 5g or 4g you barely notice any difference when you run a speed test. Hardly seems like a big leap in technological advancement.

    1. Avatar photo Carlos says:

      Very much depends on where you are located.

      Here I get 40Mbps on 4G and 200Mbps on 5G (Voxi).

  5. Avatar photo tonyp says:

    With wavelengths so short (I see 3mm to 30uM) antennae will be small. Will power levels be high enough to ensure signal will get through walls and so-on? With the UHF frequencies and clever encoding, a reasonable bit rate is being achieved with 4 and 5G and seems to have reliable connectivity. As stated, with such short wavelengths, a myriad of cells will be needed and I think that would necessarily limit 6G to urban areas. Will there be new radiation scares?

    The accuracy of the channel frequencies on such short wavelengths will be very dependant on manufacturing capability (antennae) and I guess AI manufacturing processes will help here. Humans will not be needed except for Q.C. the finished product.

    With widespread adoption of 6G (I assume), multiple small cells, I guess a whole new super-duper backhaul network will be needed with all those nodes and that means much infrastructure work and supply chain businesses. Is it the time to invest in 6G startups?

  6. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

    I wonder when it does come if it will be more reliable than 5G?
    Because so far almost everyone I know that have a 5G on their phone have disabled it as it causes more problems than it is worth. So glad I don’t have 5G on my phone.

  7. Avatar photo NE555 says:

    > Expected usage scenarios for 6G include:

    … everything that 5G was supposed to enable.

  8. Avatar photo LegoC says:

    Is there any scope in 6G to allow multiple operators to share infrastructure instead of each operator having to install their own equipment at th same locations?

  9. Avatar photo NoNetUK says:

    I can see NIMBYs rubbing their hands together with wicked smiles after hearing about 6G.

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