Some of the world’s biggest companies in telecommunications and technology told CNBC that the next generation of mobile internet after 5G, called 6G, is likely to come out in 2030.
But top bosses also said that the tech industry shouldn’t make too much of a fuss about it so that consumers don’t get confused. Companies are also thinking about how to get a return on the billions of dollars they have spent on 5G over the past few years.
“We haven’t finished rolling out 5G yet,” Ha Min Yong, SK Telecom’s chief development officer, told CNBC last week. “I don’t think it’s ready to talk about 6G seriously yet… it’s a bit too early.”
Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest trade show for the mobile industry, was held last week in Barcelona. It was all about 6G, and companies from all over the world talked about the latest tech.
In 2019, 5G started to be used by mobile companies in China, South Korea, and the US. The technology is the next step in mobile internet after 4G, which promises speeds that are much faster.
But consumer penetration is still low. Strategy Analytics says that only one in seven people around the world use a 5G smartphone right now.
The telecoms industry, on the other hand, is marketing 5G not just as a consumer product with faster download speeds but also as a network that could support new technologies like driverless cars or unmanned air taxis. It does that because it has less delay than 4G. This means it takes much less time for devices to talk to each other, which is important when data needs to be sent quickly.
But even though carriers have put hundreds of billions of dollars into 5G networks, they have had a hard time seeing a return. Analysts said that 5G might soon have the real potential to make money.
“5G adoption is accelerating in most countries where it has been deployed, including India, which is quickly building 5G networks,” Richard Webb, director of network infrastructure at CCS Insight, told CNBC in an email. “In the end, most of the potential is in enterprise markets and industrial segments,” he added.
So Why is the Industry Talking About 6G?
Standards are needed for telecommunications networks. At their best, these are rules about how technology works and how it can work with other technologies around the world. The term “interoperability” means that two or more systems can work together.
For these standards to be made and finalized, it takes a few years and a lot of work from companies, universities, and industry groups. That’s why people in the business world think about it so much.
Standards-setting groups like 3GPP, which helped with 5G, are already working on 6G standards. But right now, it’s still in the beginning stages.
In an interview with CNBC last week, Telenor CEO Sigve Brekke said, “We’re still doing research on 6G.”
Executives in the telecoms industry who talked to CNBC said that the key would be to focus on rolling out 5G while also researching 6G. Howard Watson, who is in charge of technology at BT, says that people could get confused by talk of 6G, and there are still things to improve with 5G.
“What I would say, though, is that we as an industry need to stop confusing customers by talking about Gs because the next thing you’ll ask me is when is 6G coming? Watson told CNBC last week, “I don’t see any use cases that we can’t do today that we can’t do with 5G or its next steps.”
“I don’t want wait for this new thing called 6G to confuse consumers and businesses.”
Many of the 5G networks we have now are built on top of 4G equipment and technology. But now, what operators call “standalone 5G” is being rolled out. That will use technology that is different from 4G and will help 5G reach its full potential.
There will also be more software that runs 5G networks to help with things like managing data traffic and making them more efficient.
In an interview with CNBC last week, Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark said, “There is still one step left before 6G, and it will be called 5G advanced. It will be on the market in a couple of years.”
Lundmark said that would help make technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality more fun and even help drones fly.
Lundmark said, “There’s no reason to wait for 6G.”
So What is 6G?
Since 6G standards haven’t been set yet, it’s hard to say what the technology will look like at this point.
“As operators, we need to at least start pointing out what it will be and what it won’t be,” said BT’s CTO Watson. That work has just begun, so it’s too soon to tell.”
He also said that 6G would make the mobile network safer and add more features that use artificial intelligence.
Nokia CEO Lundmark said that the 6G network would “act as one big large sensor” that could figure out the size, speed, and direction of a moving object. This feature could help make factories and even cars that don’t need drivers.
Several executives, including the CEO of Nokia, said that 6G would be available by 2030.
Nick McKeown, senior vice president of Intel’s Network and Edge Group, told CNBC that he thinks standards for 6G will be set a few years before that, in 2025.
“So the work on standards is going on right now in these standards. “There’s a little bit of jockeying for position on what the technology will be,” McKeown said in an interview last week. “There’s some testing and probing of different technologies.”
The CTO of BT said that the next generation of mobile networks is usually put in place around the Olympics. He thinks that 6G will come out around the time that the Olympics are held in Brisbane, Australia, in 2032.
Neil Mawston, the executive director of the market research firm Strategy Analytics, said that the first smartphone with 6G capabilities will come out in 2029.
Mawston said, “The 6G race is on.”
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