How a 6G Network Rollout Could Lead to New Technologies

You could download 142 hours of Netflix in a second

  • The Biden Administration and industry leaders are planning for 6G mobile networks. 
  •  Networks running on 6G mobile could deliver up to 1TB per second speeds.
  • One official warns that 6G could enable new surveillance technologies by authoritarian governments. 
6G Network concept photo with 6G in glowing lights and computer circuitry around it.

Wong Yu Liang / Getty Images

The next generation of 6G mobile internet could bring blazing-fast speeds and a host of new mobile devices, experts say. 

Business leaders, government officials, and academics met recently to discuss how to implement 6G even though the technology is still in the planning stages. The advent of 6G could result in ubiquitous coverage and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for mobile. 

"The difference between 5G and 6G is faster speed and lower latency," wireless industry analyst Jeff Kagan told Lifewire in an email interview. "That means faster and instantaneous communications."

What Is 6G?

The White House is trying to plan a strategy for moving ahead with 6G even though 5G technology isn't yet fully implemented. The National Science Foundation hosted an event to determine how the United States can lead in 6G, particularly as China is a strong contender for advanced mobile tech.  

"We are in the midst of a long boom of mobile communications connectivity and productivity," Alan Davidson, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, told the conference. "From 3G to 4G to 5G, advances in mobile data, in particular, have brought the Internet to billions of people around the world. It has been an amazing success story powered by global standards and technology innovation. 6G will be the next step in that evolution and revolution."

Any way we slice it, the next decade, as we move from 5G to 6G, will be a transformative time in our society.

But Davidson said that 6G comes with potential pitfalls, adding that "it also raises questions about how authoritarian governments could deploy this technology for further surveillance—and control—of their citizens."

Like its predecessors, 6G mobile networks will probably be broadband cellular networks, in which the service area is divided into small geographical areas called cells. However, unlike previous generations, 6G mobile networks may also use other technologies such as satellite communications, optical wireless communications, and terahertz communications to achieve higher speeds, lower latency, and broader coverage.

"It is expected that the sixth generation of mobile networks, or 6G, would bring about major improvements to mobile connection," Shanal Aggarwal, the Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) of mobile software company TechAhead, said in an email interview. "These enhancements will likely include faster speeds, lower latency, and more reliability in comparison to earlier generations of mobile networks. This could result in a more seamless streaming experience for high-quality video, faster downloads of substantial files, more responsive online games, and new opportunities for the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart cities."

The industry buzz around the potential of 6G is breathless but vague. The wireless company Ericsson writes on its website that 6G could lead to an interconnectedness between the physical and digital worlds. The technology could even bring about a metaverse, last year's trendy concept of human avatars interacting in virtual spaces. 

"Countless sensors will be embedded in the physical world to send data to update the digital representation in real time," Ericsson writes. "Meanwhile, functions programmed in the digital representation will be carried out by actuators in the physical world. The purpose of the 6G network platform is to provide intelligence, ever-present connectivity, and full synchronization to this emerging reality."

The Great 6G Unknowns

Despite all the talk of a bright 6G future, there's a lot still unknown about the technology, including exactly what it will be. The exact speed of a 6G mobile is not yet determined, as the final standards that will define what a 6G connection is will be determined by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

One thing that is clear is that 6G will be fast. Observers have estimated that 6G mobile could deliver mind-boggling speeds of up to 1TB per second, or 8,000 gigabits per second. This would be about 100 times faster than 5G and about 10,000 times faster than 4G. To put this into perspective, with 6G mobile speeds like that, you could download 142 hours of Netflix movies in just one second.

It is also too early to say when precisely 6G mobile will come out, as it depends on many factors such as research progress, standardization processes, spectrum allocation, infrastructure development, and market demand. Some experts say 6G mobile networks might roll out sometime around 2030.

"Any way we slice it, the next decade, as we move from 5G to 6G, will be a transformative time in our society," Kagan said. 

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