Network supplier Ericsson has today announced that they’re investing “tens of millions of pounds” (GBP) in order to establish a new research unit in the United Kingdom, which will be used to help test and develop the next (sixth) generation of 6G mobile and wireless broadband technologies.
6G is currently still in the very early research and development (R&D) phase, and there remains a debate over what the future standard should encompass. But the expectation is that it will go further than 5G by harnessing the spectrum in the higher frequency TeraHertz (THz) bands, while also using AI and other changes to improve network efficiency across existing bands (5G was designed to work across 450MHz and up to 52GHz).
NOTE: Terahertz (THz) radiation is more widely defined as the region of the electromagnetic spectrum (EM) in the range of 100GHz (3 mm) to 10THz (30 μm) – between the millimeter and infrared frequencies.
One often stated goal of this future technology is to be able to achieve data rates of up to 1Tbps (Terabits per second = 1000Gbps / Gigabits per second), which compares with 5G’s theoretical peak of 20Gbps. But hitting that in the real-world will be incredibly difficult, particularly given that mobile operators are already struggling with the high cost of deploying 5G (requires a dense and complex network to achieve the best performance).
Nevertheless, 6G is expected to see its first commercial deployments taking place from around 2030, and that means mobile operators will need to start thinking about it today. Ericsson is one of the major suppliers of related kit, thus it makes sense for them to be heavily involved in the R&D side, which is what today is all about.
The new UK research facility is part of that effort. As such, it will employ 20 dedicated researchers and support additional PhD students who will work alongside leading academics, mobile operators / network providers and industry partners to lead 6G research projects.
Michelle Donelan, DCMS Secretary of State, says:
“Ericsson’s investment is a huge vote of confidence in the UK’s innovative telecoms sector. This pioneering research unit will create new jobs, support students and bring together some of our country’s finest minds to shape the future of telecoms infrastructure in the UK and across the globe.
Our mission is to lead the world in developing next-generation network tech, and we will soon publish a strategy outlining how we harness 6G to deliver more for people and business.”
Katherine Ainley, CEO of Ericsson UK & Ireland, says:
“Ericsson has been connecting the UK for more than 120 years and this new investment underlines our ongoing commitment to ensure the country remains a global leader in the technologies and industries of the future.
Our vision for a more connected, safer and sustainable world is one that is shared by the UK government, and we look forward to working together with network operators, industries and academia to develop international standards that will move us ever closer to achieving seamless global connectivity and truly groundbreaking innovation.”
All of this sounds good, but we fully expect that 6G will suffer from the same over-inflated hype as 5G did. Ericsson’s release is already talking about how it will “merge the digital and physical world, contribute to a more intelligent, sustainable and efficient society and help deliver new use cases that include multi-sensory extended reality, precision healthcare, smart agriculture, cobots, and intelligent autonomous systems.” Pretty much exactly the same stuff that 5G promised.
All of this overlooks the high cost to operators of deploying these new technologies, which tend to adopt ever weaker spectrum bands and that in turn requires the installation of a denser network, which significantly raises the construction costs. Most mobile operators today are still deploying 5G in the sub-6GHz bands because that is the most economically sensible approach to achieve good coverage.
Suffice to say, there’s a sense that pushing 6G into even higher bands may be a solution in search of a problem. On the other hand, 6G will bring further network efficiencies (energy and performance), which will benefit existing bands too, but if the cost of deployment is too high then such benefits will once again be eroded by reality.