• While 5G is positioned as a “near-term” game-changer, both pundits and telecom vendors debate network characteristics, performance expectations, and use cases that will be enabled by next-generation wireless technology: 6G.
• Compelling enterprise use cases in early trials, or are only hinted at today, will allegedly be widely available in the 2030s.
Analysts are busily digesting evolving information on the capabilities of 5G as they aim to come up with answers to burning questions such as:
• What are real-world 5G B2B use cases today, and what will they be tomorrow?
• When (and how) can operators monetize 5G enterprise services into profitable business lines?
• What will the next phases of the 3GPP standards add to the mix?
• How will slicing and standalone 5G change the current set of capabilities?
• How is the ecosystem evolving, and who is winning?
Just as analysts begin to figure some of these puzzles out, 6G is on the horizon, with working groups, vendors, and service providers already planning for the next generation of technology and associated consumer and enterprise use cases.
The bi-annual 6GWorld Symposium is a great source of information for understanding enabling technologies and use cases that will be available to businesses in eight to 10 years. While the symposium in September 2021 was mostly about the network, the spring 2022 sessions included more details on emerging use cases.
Just to set the stage, 6G networks will add considerably to 5G technology by, among other things, increasing data rates to 100 Gbps, potentially lowering latency to a few microseconds, and allowing 10 million connected devices per square kilometer. With such performance expectations, 6G-enabled enterprise technologies and use cases can theoretically be taken to a new level, effecting not only speed of data/video transmission but also the way companies communicate, process information, train employees, and make decisions. A few examples from 6GWorld 2022 follow:
• AR/VR: According to Avnet Abacus, the extended reality (XR) market is already seeing expansion in the enterprise due to 5G, with deployments ranging from Industry 4.0 digital twins, location-based VR, and remote learning tools. This has been facilitated by shifting some of the heavy lifting involved in graphical rendering to the cloud, or by processing it at the edge, and by using technologies such as massive MIMO, enabling very large numbers of devices to be targeted by each base station. In the 6G future, immersive communication, holographic telepresence, and AR/VR are predicted to become the default way of communicating, which will require 8k video resolution per eye. To support this, 6G will have to deliver end user data rates up to 10 Gbps.
• Private Networks: While 4G and 5G private networks are starting to make inroads into industrial verticals, there are more changes ahead. NEC predicts that the 2030s will bring (1) hyper-real communications transcending time and space and (2) the expansion of digital twins to seamless connections between people, things, and experiences regardless of place. NEC is part of Japan’s Beyond 5G Promotion Consortium that is working to understand technology and market trends in 2030 and their effect on a broad range of industries. For example, in warehousing and logistics, IoT, cyber ports, digital transformation, digital twins, robots, and drones will provide fully automated operations, along with advanced use of AI, ML, and non-terrestrial networks.
• Autonomy and Healthcare: Autonomous vehicles, expansion of communication to space and sea, and significant medical breakthroughs are also expected to emerge as a result of 6G and adjacent technologies. Multi-modal mobility, collaboration between vehicles with smart cities, telesurgery, nanobots, personalized medicine, AI-enabled drug discovery, and augmented humans with “brain machines” for persons with disabilities are just a few examples.
While some of the use cases (many in fact) are the same ones that enterprises have been hearing about for several years when it comes to 5G as a game changer, the better performance of 6G may support them more effectively. Soon, enterprises can start to ask the same questions about the 6G ecosystem, monetization initiatives, and real-world use cases (vs. hype) that they are struggling to understand today with 5G.