6G is on the horizon. But is it time to get sensible and stop the hype cycle? A recent Cambridge Wireless event, "Let's have no more Gees", saw expert speakers presenting opposing arguments on the topic. Click here to watch, or read the summary below.
When ETSI started to standardise cellular in the 90s and developed GSM, it described it as “the second generation” to differentiate it from the analogue systems that existed at the time. In the wider world, no one noticed, except that phones suddenly became affordable for everyone and people discovered the joy of texts.
When the next generation started to be standardised though, there was a sudden fashion for spectrum auctions which raised spectacular amounts of money for governments and “3G” was on everyone’s lips. Suddenly cellular got interesting and its profile was raised even though 3G didn’t deliver the promise of mobile internet until the standard adopted HSPA and became unrecognisable. (Oh, and Apple launched the iPhone of course!)
4G then arrived to put right the 3G air interface design, and to some extent fix the network protocols, and meanwhile, we all bought smartphones and started using them to watch TV, consume social media, browse the web and sometimes make phone calls.
5G has huge benefits. It offers a greater speed in the transmissions, a lower latency and therefore greater capacity of remote execution, a greater number of connected devices and the possibility of implementing virtual networks, providing more adjusted connectivity to concrete needs. But now we are starting to think about 6G, perhaps we should just focus attention on incremental improvements where they are needed. We could fix the internet protocol stack to reduce bloat (and maybe reduce the need for more spectrum), and recognise that you don’t need more technology to fix rural coverage, you just need more infrastructure.
“No more Gees”
Stephen Howard, Partner, Communications chambers, said: “Technology has developed remarkably but we can’t let buzzwords and acronyms crowd out everything else. We need practical, real and credible applications. 6G would, of course, bring rewards but we need to focus on one fundamental question: "Who are we doing this for?”
He continued: “The answer is the end customer and it’s about finding solutions for their challenges and needs. For example, cellular IoT has not been a huge success when compared to original predictions; it is a truly great idea and there ought to be an enormous scope”. The reasons for the slow take up are complex but it’s mainly due to organisational inertia, lack of business models, and other practical hurdles making it a struggle to reach a critical mass. If the current amazing capabilities of the telecoms ecosystem haven't been leveraged already, then why pursue the next generation?
“More Gees require billions of capital investment for a sector that is providing poor returns in comparison to other industries. If we identify the bottlenecks hindering 5G adoption, everyone would be better served. Let’s have research and development but make sure to identify customers' actual, real needs," he added.
Phil Sheppard, Director and Principal Consultant, Clear Technology Consulting, said: “I am enthusiastically in favour of technology innovation, and strongly believe that all of the generations so far have provided a visible change to consumers. But I’m not sure 6G does.”
“6G might create backwards capability issues, which is unsustainable in the long-term for IoT and industry deployments. This would create customer apathy,” he added. “The benefits need to outweigh the barriers. In comparison to 5G, 6G doesn’t offer wide substantial benefits. The architecture for 5G is future-proofed and continuing with it will allow companies to plan ahead without the premature fear of obsolescence. Let’s just focus on capability.”
Adrian Scrase, CTO, ETSI, said: “Gees may not be suitable for local markets but they are for large complex systems which are intending to evolve, such as mobile systems. They are a destination to which an enormous industrial effort will be invited by stakeholders from academia, research bodies, industry, governments, large enterprises and SMEs.”
It is too early to pronounce the success of 5G with many of the key features of the standard yet to be fully deployed in the marketplace. 2021 was always predicted to be the first year where the full standard became available, so it is early days. But the roll-out of 5G is impressive globally; the GSMA forecast 5G connections to represent more than a fifth of total mobile connections by the end of 2025, reaching 1.8 billion, with the highest adoption expected in North America and four of the most developed markets in the Asia Pacific region. 5G will also operate in a changing landscape where non-public networks are becoming increasingly important.
“All gees are developed by a very large community of interest, there is an inbuilt readiness to deploy. They also provide a marketing and branding possibility, as well as an opportunity for upgrading infrastructure and modernising the industry,” he continued. “Gees have served the mobile industry well for three decades. They provide a focus for research and investment while enabling a branding wrapper that populations understand. Plus, it’s too late to stop 6G because that train has already left the station," Scrase added.
“There’s a big difference between 4G and 5G and this will long continue,” said Rahim Tafazolli, Regius Professor of Electronic Engineering, University of Surrey. “New generations don’t mean older ones stop. 4G is still relevant and 6G will bring even more capacity, social inclusion, environmental sustainability and industry productivity than 5G.”
“More research will allow us to focus on society and industry challenges, as well as overcome the digital divide. Full 5G, enabled by low latency and reliability, enhances transportation, manufacturing, entertainment and health. 6G, enabled by low latency and time synchronisation, will focus on driverless driving, cooperative manufacturing, a new generation of entertainment, interactive telecare, and teleportation,” he said.
The subsequent discussion focused on how a “Gee” is a set of standards, but it is not a new business model. The panel discussed the need to keep politics out of standard-setting and how marketing hype really doesn’t help the industry, creating false expectations. According to a recent Cambridge Wireless survey, 67% voted against “more Gees”.
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