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Industry Must Move Together as 5G Maps the Road Towards 6G

October 19, 2021 by Victoria Turner
People pass an AT&T store in New York's Times Square. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

There was a time when 3D holographic communications was a fantasy; something depicted in George Lucas’s “Star Wars” movies but far from everyday. 

However, “what was once science fiction is now becoming reality,” said Andre Fuetsch, chief technology officer of AT&T, on Monday. Speaking at the Brooklyn 6G Summit, he divulged that AT&T has already delivered immersive 3D holographic communications in partnership with Ericsson. 

In another futuristic development, AT&T is currently teaming up with Microsoft’s Azure to develop a real-time response for drone control allowing drones to be maneuvered with much more precision in sophisticated operations. 

These types of developments will become much more available and useful when 6G becomes available.

And 6G will also alleviate the current data traffic slowdown, which appears to be outrunning even 5G deployment. The pandemic has increased data traffic on AT&T’s network by 40% on an average day, a number which was expected pre-COVID, Fuetsch added. 

And the demand for fixed and mobile data is just going to continue to increase, he said.

In the race to 5G, the evolution from 4G to 5G happened quickly, pointed out Tommi Uitto, president of mobile networks at Nokia MN. Now, with about 169 global live 5G networks, it is no longer about who gets the first 5G network with the highest speed deployed to the market, but how operators will come up with new opportunities for consumers and enterprises alike throughout the evolution of 5G and on to 6G. Holographic communications might then become commonplace. 

However, 5G is still in its early stages. In South Korea, which Uitto described as the most “progressive 5G market in the world,” about 26% to 30% of subscriptions are 5G-enabled with about a third of its mobile traffic carried on 5G networks. 

The U.S. and leading European markets, however, only have about 5% to 10%. 

And the transition from 5G to 6G must be smooth, or “interlinked” as Mikael Hook, director of radio research at Ericsson, said. The identified technology components, services and needs to support 6G, he said, that will begin to enter into play during the era of 5G, should be developed with an eye toward use for 6G. 

According to Nishant Batra, chief strategy and technology officer at Nokia, moving from advanced 5G to 6G, video will move on to fully immersive user experiences through the application of extended reality – also known as XR, which is a mix of real and virtual environments – to holographic communications. 

Enhanced localization and sensing in advanced 5G will lift the level of precision of location to a whole new dimension by complementing and helping global navigation satellite systems, particularly important to industrial automation, he said, where “you need precision down to [a] few centimeters.” In 6G, coupling a network with those sensors “will provide a network with a 6th sense.” 

There will be surprising development of useful, enticing and highly precise technology, but, he pointed out, it is essential that the industry continue the overarching themes of deglobalization, security and sustainability. 

In the transition from 5G to 6G, Batra explained, the industry must move together in step. And it is imperative that it does so under one global standard to better help the consumer, the society and the global economy. For example, cybersecurity, which he said faces an estimated threat of $10.5 trillion in crimes by 2025, is a “right, middle and center” issue to be tackled by the industry as a whole.

Last but not least is ensuring 5G sustainability, both in working together to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint by 50% between 2019 and 2030, and ensuring that the networks can handle the traffic that is expected to grow 27 times by 2025. 

This evolution from 5G, to advanced 5G and then to 6G will “redefine how we live, work, and take care of the planet…due to the massive scale deployment of sensors powered by artificial and machine learning,” Batra said, charging that “that’s the responsibility we, as partners in this industry, have to take on.” 

Victoria can be reached at victoria@thewellnews.com

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