How will 6G transform the world?

By Russ Banham

With 5G networks rolling out across the world and fast becoming yesterday’s news, now is a good time to imagine the future of 6G wireless technology. The sixth-generation wireless standard won’t be ready for prime time until 2028 at the earliest, given the network deployment, expansion and security challenges related to the explosion of data traffic entailed. But already, scientists experimenting with 6G-powered digital processes and productivity enhancements are electrified by its prospects.

“6G will drive innovation and competition in a range of application domains, including threat detection, smart cities, gas and toxicity sensing, environmental quality, personalized medicine, public safety and autonomous driving,” says Houbing Song, Ph.D., associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

That’s the shortlist. Song predicted such extraordinary 6G-furled capabilities as smartphones embedded with chemical sensors that can detect the presence of viruses like COVID-19, in addition to microphone-embedded smartphones that can identify an unauthorized drone operating around an airport or stadium. In both cases, an alarm is triggered.

6G will drive innovation and competition in a range of application domains, including threat detection, smart cities, gas and toxicity sensing, environmental quality, personalized medicine, public safety and autonomous driving.

—Houbing Song, Ph.D., associate professor, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Much like its fifth-generation wireless predecessor, 6G will deliver greater data transmission capacity, throughput and speed with lower latency—the delay in time between a user’s action and a web application’s response to this action. These leaps in possibilities are considered a door opener to the metaverse, closing the gap between the physical and virtual worlds to optimize processes, productivity, and consumer or business decision-making.

Song paints a picture of a fully integrated web-based world in which today’s Internet of Things (IoT) becomes tomorrow’s Internet of Everything. “By integrating 6G with technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, bid data analytics and IoT, the potential is there to transform how people interact with information,” he says. “People will be unified with their devices, their cars, and most everything around them from an interactive standpoint.”

Taking off in time

Before the world reaches this nirvana, let us not downplay the virtues of 5G networks, one of the fastest and most robust technologies to have a significant impact on humankind.

For the most part, the value of 5G has been consumer-centric, with companies just beginning to build technology infrastructures like multicloud, multinetwork stakeholder environments leveraging the business benefits, says Fuad Siddiqui, global 5G industry and emerging tech leader at audit and advisory firm EY. “Industry has yet to fully adopt the value of what I call 5G-plus, the human-industrial integration that will serve as the foundation for 6G,” Siddiqui explained.

Once 6G is built, amazing things are in store. “Imagine a constellation and interplay of different technologies in a high-performance network, where applications and devices come together at the edge, closer and closer to the end-user,” he says. “This is the future we’re embarking on with 6G, where technology is readily available as water from a tap.”

Siddiqui predicted that 2024 will be the inflection point at which industries like mining, transportation, manufacturing and logistics embrace the power of 5G-plus to become more agile, productive and resilient, followed by another adoption curve in the 2028-30 time period to scale up for the introduction of 6G.

Imagine a constellation and interplay of different technologies in a high-performance network, where applications and devices come together at the edge, closer and closer to the end-user.

—Fuad Siddiqui, tech leader, EY

“Manufacturers only recently began to integrate IT with OT [operations technology], retrofitting their factories with private networks and robotics automation to remotely orchestrate machines to operate autonomously on the factory floor,” he says. “In this environment, sensors provide performance data on each machine, which are connected to each other and users in the IoT. Real-time machine performance updates equip factory workers with perfect knowledge.”

This knowledge is the collective intelligence of humans and machines working in perfect harmony to enable safer, more productive and efficient outcomes, he says. “We’re still at the beginning, but 6G will bring it much closer to fruition.”

Paving the parallel universe

Once 6G is rolled out, the metaverse, the future version of today’s cyberspace, will materialize. In this environment, actions and interactions in the real world are replicated digitally and virtually.

“6G is one of the big enablers of the metaverse, as it will reduce latency to eliminate the jitteriness and motion sickness one feels in the virtual environment,” says Jeff Wang, global networks lead at Accenture. Latency creates a slight incongruity between what the eyes of a user see and when the person’s inner ear registers the sight.

Wang is experimenting with the use of digital twin and mixed reality technologies to create full lifecycle training solutions in the manufacturing sector. Mixed reality is a virtual environment in which physical reality and digital content are merged to enable virtual user interactions. By building a digital twin of the traditional training process, the trainee uses mixed reality tools to learn how to operate the machinery.

A human trainer is still involved in providing instruction, albeit through virtual collaborations. “The trainer can remotely train two or more trainees physically in different places in the use of the same equipment, customized to where they are going to work,” says Wang.

“We’ve even built an algorithm to shut down the equipment if the person is doing something dangerous, like starting a drill press without wearing a helmet,” he says, noting that a sensor identifies the presence or lack of a helmet.

These remarkable training outcomes today are constrained by latency issues, a detraction that will once disappear the 6G standard is Wang projects. “6G will unlock truly metaverse-ready networks,” he says, marking the demise of virtual seasickness.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock

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