What is 6G and when will it launch? Telco executives predict

  • Executives from the world’s largest telecommunications and technology companies told CNBC that 6G, the next generation of mobile internet after 5G, is likely to be launched in 2030.
  • After investing hundreds of billions of dollars in 5G networks, operators have struggled to see a return, while 5G penetration among consumers remains low globally.
  • However, work is underway on 6G standards that could be completed by the end of this decade, executives say, and will be rolled out in the early 2030s.

Telecom companies are considering 6G, the next generation of mobile internet after 5G. It is still unclear what it will look like and how it will work. But executives predict it will be introduced in 2030.

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Executives from the world’s largest telecommunications and technology companies told CNBC that 6G, the next generation of mobile internet after 5G, is likely to be launched in 2030.

But senior executives also cautioned that the industry should not make too much noise about the technology to avoid confusing consumers. It comes as companies are also considering how to recoup their multibillion-dollar investments in 5G over the past few years.

“We haven’t finished deploying 5G yet,” Ha Min-yong, SK Telecom’s chief development officer, told CNBC last week. “I don’t think it’s mature enough to talk seriously about 6G… it’s a bit early.”

6G was the talk of the Mobile World Congress last week in Barcelona, ​​the world’s largest trade show for the mobile industry, where the world’s telcos had their say on the latest technology.

Mobile operators in China, South Korea and the United States began rolling out 5G in 2019. The technology is the next generation of mobile internet after 4G, promising super-fast speeds.

But consumer penetration remains low. According to Strategy Analytics, only one in seven people in the world today uses a 5G smartphone.

However, 5G has been positioned by the telecommunications industry not just as a consumer product for faster download speeds, but as a network that could underpin new technologies such as driverless cars or pilotless air taxis. This is because it has lower latency than 4G. That means the time for devices to talk to each other is significantly reduced, which is important in scenarios where data needs to be transferred quickly.

However, after investing hundreds of billions of dollars in 5G networks, operators have struggled to see a return. Analysts say the real monetization potential of 5G may be on the horizon.

“5G adoption is accelerating in many countries where it has been deployed (including India, which is rapidly building 5G networks), but consumer subscribers are only one indicator of usage; is,” Richard Webb, director of network infrastructure at CCS Insight, told CNBC in an email.

Telecommunications networks require standards. These are, at best, globally accepted technical rules that define how technology works and how it is interoperable around the world. Interoperability refers to the ability of two or more systems to work together.

These standards take several years to develop and finalize and involve a range of players from companies to academia and industry bodies. That’s why the industry thinks so much about it.

Work is already underway on 6G standards through standards-setting bodies such as 3GPP, which contributed to 5G. But it’s still in the early stages right now.

“Well for us, 6G is really in the research phase,” Telenor CEO Sigve Brekke told CNBC last week.

Telecom industry executives who spoke to CNBC said the key will be to focus on 5G deployment even as 6G research takes place. That’s because talk of 6G can confuse consumers and there are still advances in 5G, according to BT’s chief technology officer Howard Watson.

“What I would say is that we as an industry need to stop confusing customers by talking to them about Gs because the next thing you’ll be asking me is when is 6G coming. I don’t see any use case today that we can. “Don’t do 5G or its immediate evolution,” Watson told CNBC last week.

“I don’t want to confuse consumers and businesses, wait for this new thing called 6G.”

Many of the current 5G networks are built on 4G hardware and technology. But carriers are now rolling out what they call stand-alone 5G. It will use technology independent of 4G and comes with the promise of realizing the full potential of 5G.

There will also be more software that powers 5G networks, helping with efficiency such as managing data traffic.

“There is one more step before 6G, and it will be called advanced 5G, which will be available in the market in a few years,” Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark told CNBC last week.

Lundmark said it will help improve the experience of technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, and even support drones.

“There is no reason to wait for 6G,” said Lundmark.

At this point, because 6G standards haven’t been set, there’s really no clear picture of what the technology will look like.

Watson, BT’s CTO, said “it’s important that we as operators think about at least starting to give some indication of what will and won’t happen. That work has just begun, and it’s too early to tell.”

He added that 6G will bring enhanced cyber security as well as more artificial intelligence capabilities to the mobile network.

Nokia CEO Lundmark said the 6G network will “act as one big big sensor” that can detect the size, speed and direction of a moving object. This feature could help create automated factories and even driverless cars.

A number of executives, including Nokia’s CEO, predicted that 6G would be rolled out in 2030.

Nick McKeown, senior vice president of Intel’s Network and Edge Group, told CNBC that he also sees 6G rolling out in 2030, with standards set several years in advance.

“So standards work is actively happening in these standards right now. And you know, there’s a certain amount of trial and error on different technologies, jumping around a little bit to position what the technology is going to be like.” McCown said in an interview last week.

BT’s CTO said the next generations of mobile networks typically roll out around the Olympics. He believes that 6G will be launched around the 2032 Olympics in Brisbane, Australia.

Strategy Analytics CEO Neil Mowston said he predicts the first 6G smartphone will be released in 2029.

“The 6G race is on,” Mauston said.

CNBC’s Ryan Brown contributed to this article.

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