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What Lies Beyond 5G?

As with anything we humans touch, we have barely begun implementing 5G networks and yet questions are arising about what is next. Its human nature I suppose that as our world continues to evolve, so does our need for growth and wondering how far we can go. This article explains a bit about where we are in 5G and the possibilities that might lay beyond 5G.

Its hard to remember a day when we weren’t tied to our smartphones or even having a cell phone that wasn’t a smartphone! I bet many young people wonder why we even call them smartphones. This transition was slow and it was really the leap from 3G to 4G that changed how we operate with allowing high-speed data transfer, video streaming, and truly mobile data use. Now, as 5G continues to be deployed, massive speeds and connectivity possibilities are at our feet and its truly another seismic leap from 4G to 5G.

The leap from 5G to a future with 6G is fascinating to think about. It raises some questions about what we even need 6G for which I’ll explore later in the article, but for now, here is what a 6G network might provide:

  1. Super high speeds – potentially terabits per second vs the gigabits that 5G is anticipating
  2. Ultra low latency (delay) – measured in mircoseconds rather than seconds. This is important for any real time connected usage (remote surgery for example)
  3. Hyper-connectivity – everything can talk to each other and seamlessly connect instantly
  4. Quantum capabilities – this can enhance security, speed, and provide an overall more effective data environment. Think bitcoin on steroids providing fast, reliable, lower energy use secure transaction capabilities.
  5. Energy efficiency – as technology and infrastructure improves, energy efficiency will follow

Its exciting to think about the future and what this might look like, but when we think about the potential steps from 5G to 6G, we may however want to start with asking why does 6G even matter given we haven’t even figured out how to use and maximize our 5G capabilities. Nor do we have the infrastructure for widespread 5G networks yet, let alone 6G. I broach this because while the concept of 6G is exciting and our human nature is always pushing to get better, we must remember that it is still early days of 5G. We are still working through the logistics of deploying the infrastructure to facilitate 5G use and many smart people are working on the systems, technology and tools to be able to leverage this 5G capacity.

Think about autonomous vehicles as an example. This technology is still being developed and is not truly capable of being deployed without widespread 5G networks. Will 6G help? Perhaps, but for all we know 5G will be adequate for these needs. Remote surgery is another tantalizing concept. Its already in place in some situations, and 5G speeds and low latency (delay) are key to success. Again, perhaps 6G will enhance this, but its also possible 5G will be adequate. In both these cases and many more, its more likely the technology can improve more quickly and effectively to leverage the 5G network rather than upgrading the whole network to 6G. Incremental changes could be more effective to use the capacity we have rather than wholesale network changes. But again, at this point its unclear what will be needed. What is clear is we are at a truly history changing moment for society and technology and its going to be fascinating seeing what technology can do to leverage the new speeds and capabilities we have access to. Stay tuned…

-Ron Laidman