1. What actually is 6G?

6G is not yet formally defined, but the broad contours are becoming clearer, with an approaching consensus for certain features and needs, plus a long-list of potential capabilities and technological features.

6G represents a chance to fix the limitations already visible with 5G, and also reflect the rapid changes in both supply-side industry structure and demand-side network ownership and operation including Private Networks, AI/ML, Open RAN, Network-Sharing, Technology Sustainability etc. 

See this article for more detail: 6 core technologies which will drive 6G

2. What are the most important short-term actions for telcos around 6G?

When considering new and proposed 6G technologies to focus on, be mindful that the technologies being discussed fall into one of three categories:

  1. Part of 5G Advanced, which will already be delivered or will definitely be available in 6G timeframes
  2. Will be delivered within the broad initial timeframe of 6G arrival, but may not be fully-integrated with it, or designed-in to requirements and standards
  3. Are more “academic” and/or unfeasible at commercial scales, and therefore unlikely to be mass-market until well after 2030. 

When identifying future new services to focus on, select those which are likely to be both technically feasible and easy to sell – as many early use-case suggestions appear to be either one or the other.

See this article for more detail: 6G product development: finding a path through the hype.

3. What capabilities should 6G development focus on in the short term?

While eye-catching applications and headline numbers for performance will likely be central in much public discussion of 6G, some of the most-likely outcomes and priorities will be more prosaic.

The following list includes developments that should be focused on:

  • Improved speed and greater capacity-density (Gbps/sq km) for consumer and business data products like mobile broadband and FWA.
  • Further latency improvements versus 5G, even if the currently stated “stretch” goal of 1 microsecond is not achievable.
  • We would like to see explicit Day 1 support in 6G requirements and specifications for better indoor coverage, given the increasing number of indoor use-cases for speed and low-latency that will be beyond the reach of most macro RAN deployments.
  • Support for better (and lower-cost) coverage in remote locations, including the integration of more non-terrestrial networks.
  • Improved density and consistency of coverage in high usage areas – perhaps, via some roll out of “intelligent surfaces” rather than conventional cell radios

4. If 6G is not going to be ubiquitous – what does this mean for services provided?

If 5G deployment is a guide, it will take many years before 6G approaches “ubiquity”, especially if services have to cross boundaries between MNOs or specialist niche providers of neutral/roaming coverage.

It is not even clear that cellular cores will always be a unifying or converged fabric – CSPs and device/application developers will need to be comfortable with “hetnets” (or hybrids) that are not always 3GPP-anchored.

As a result, only a few services and applications can be expected to be “6G-only” or even “6G-primary”, at least in the early years. This will mean either the creation of services that can exploit localised and well-engineered 6G “islands”, or other solutions that have clear means for “fallback” to 5G or alternative modes of connectivity

5. Where will the trade off be between network capacity/speed and sustainability?

6G’s development coincides with huge focus on Net Zero and broader notions of sustainability. There is a growing awareness in the 6G research and policy communities of the trade-offs between ultimate network performance, and sustainability / energy use.

Design goals should be made on the basis of the most granular input data available – policymakers and standards bodies should be pushing vendors and operators to “double-click” on headline numbers on traffic, energy consumption and so on, to better inform the 6G objective-setting process. We are rather wary about some 6G discussions talking of “rationing” of data usage, based on questionable metrics such as energy-per-bit, as that may be a smokescreen for another generation of network-based “optimisation” of application and content streams.

There should also be consideration given to allowing users to make informed choices about network usage to optimise for energy consumption rather than maximising throughput. This may mean some tough decisions, for instance where a given session may use less energy on Wi-Fi and fixed broadband, rather than cellular.

6. How do governing bodies, regulators and policymakers prioritise the development of 6G capabilities fairly?

There are multiple dimensions to 6G policymaking and standardisation. It seems likely that several geopolitical disruptions will occur concurrently with 6G’s creation and early deployment, ranging from concerns about authoritarianism to trade, cybersecurity and intellectual property.

Governments may favour national “champions”, local research/skills clusters and domestic dominance in intellectual property or essential materials and component supply. This may result in a fragmented landscape for 6G priorities, and less scope for harmonization globally.

While this may mean a reduction in market efficiency, we are less convinced than some that it would be a total tragedy – the software-isation of networks makes it somewhat easier to “glue together” disparate systems, via gateways and translation functions. This may add some friction, but this may be easier than some of the uncomfortable compromises and rancorous delay that may otherwise ensure.

More broadly, we would like to see more efforts by governments to position 6G in a broader context of “advanced communications”, rather than treating it purely on a standalone basis, as 5G was. An ideal world in 2030+ would be one of “network diversity”, where applications and users have choice of both competitive service providers and technology options.