The telecom industry has started holding discussions around a new technology, 6G. As the name suggests, 6G wireless technology is the successor to 5G. It uses higher frequencies than 5G, bringing with it substantially lower latency and higher capacity. As per industry experts, 6G can support 1 microsecond-latency communication, which roughly translates into communication and data transfer speeds that are several hundred times greater than what is available at present. Telecom experts are of the view that 6G can potentially support about 1 TB of data per second. It is expected to enable a vast improvement in functionalities such as touch control, imaging and location awareness, particularly when deployed along with artificial intelligence (AI).
Given that 6G is the next step that the industry will take once 5G roll-outs are completed, a lot of research and development (R&D) work is already being undertaken by industry leaders towards 6G. India, like its global counterparts, is working on the upcoming next-generation technology.
A look at some of the potential use cases of 6G, its infrastructure requirements, initiatives taken in India and the future outlook…
Use cases of 6G
6G would enable the convergence of satellite communications (satcom) and terrestrial networks. This would transform the way machines and people interact in the future.
The convergence of satcom and terrestrial networks is expected to play a vital role in bringing about a paradigm shift in machine-human interactions. It would propel and enable nationwide mobile and broadband connectivity. The combined power of space and terrestrial technologies behind countrywide mobile and broadband connectivity, in turn, would enable the entire gamut of digital services to reach far and wide, to even the country’s remotest locations.
In addition, 6G technology is being touted to drive the adoption of 5G use cases at scale through optimisation and cost reduction, especially at the enterprise level. Moreover, 6G will bring together the human, physical and virtual environments. Metaverse is a case in point. With 6G, metaverse would not just evolve into a final model, but is also likely to unify with the physical world with the help of AI and machine learning (ML). According to Nokia Bell Labs, this is because the most notable aspect of 6G would be its ability to sense the environment, people and objects. The network’s sensing ability, combined with AI and ML, will make the network more cognitive.
Apart from this, data analytics is set to grow extensively with the coming in of 6G. 6G will also enable faster sampling rates. Furthermore, 6G can enable deployment of threat detection systems, drones, health monitoring, feature and facial recognition, and air quality measurements. This technology will also come in handy in the implementation of futuristic projects such as smart cities and autonomous vehicles.
Infrastructure requirements of 6G
Neither governments nor private stakeholders are certain about what 6G will require in terms of physical infrastructure. At present, there is little clarity on how exactly devices will need to be reconfigured to suit the new technology. For instance, 6G is likely to allow object tracking with highly accurate sensors and enable more accurate visual and voice recognition.
As per industry experts, existing mobile phones and new ones that evolve from them in the coming years may not be adequate to host the cutting-edge features that 6G would offer. This could lead to a complete overhaul of how mobiles are made and used.
Key initiatives taken in India
In December 2021, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) formed six academia-heavy task forces under the “technology innovation group” (TIG) on 6G technology. The task forces were entrusted with the responsibility of mapping 6G activities and capabilities worldwide, coming out with a white paper on India’s competencies, developing a road map for R&D, pre-standardisation, developing applications and products, and creating action plans for 6G technology.
A couple of months prior to this, the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT) had set up a quantum communication lab. Following this, the government had asked C-DOT to start working on 6G and other futuristic technologies to catch up with the global market in time. The government had also advised C-DOT to focus on commercialisation of technology and consider setting up incubators in C-DOT for faster technology commercialisation.
Meanwhile, on its part, the Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India (TSDSI), in June 2021, had submitted its 6G vision with the ITU Radiocommunication sector (ITU-R) to drive the direction of 6G technologies as part of the IMT-2030 vision. The TSDSI claimed to have adopted a two-pronged strategy for its 6G journey. This involves steering research in India to serve the goals and continuing engagement with global standards bodies for harmonisation of efforts, including ITU WP (International Telecommunication Union Working Party) 5D.
According to the TSDSI, there will be a proliferation of network types such as public, private, enterprise/industrial wireless networks, application-specific specialised networks, and IoT/sensor networks, and they can be based on different radio access technologies. The TSDSI noted that accessible and affordable technologies can bridge the digital divide, and future technologies must leverage composable networks and architectures to address cost and affordability issues. It added that spectrum sharing or simultaneous spectrum use technologies can lower the initial spectrum purchase cost.
Development on the 6G technology front has begun in countries such as China, Japan and Singapore. India, on its part, is taking initiatives to make a strong contribution to global standards formulation for 6G technology, before the new technology is ready for a global commercial launch in 2028. In fact, the government has said that India is working towards an indigenously developed 6G technology, with the aim of launching it either by 2023 end or early 2024. To this end, requisite permissions have been given to scientists and engineers working on the technology. Further, the government has noted that 6G technology will be rolled out in the country using indigenously developed hardware and software. The technology will also be exported to other countries.