6G – Mobile Communications of the Future

Author: Michael Vogel

Jun 15, 2022 Innovation

After 5G comes 6G. The mobile communications technology of the 2030s will be faster, more reliable, and more flexible than its predecessors. And it will even be able to determine positions with centimeter precision.

It was only a few years ago that the 5G mobile communications standard made its debut. Some smartphone owners have probably never made a call in the 5G network because their smartphone cannot do so or because there is no 5G network in their area yet. So at first glance, it may seem surprising that there is already talk of 6G. But this follows an unwritten rule: A new generation of mobile communications has reached market maturity every decade since the 1980s. To ensure that this also happens with 6G in the 2030s, science and industry are already looking at processes and technologies that could become relevant for 6G. We say ‘could’, because experience shows that international standardization efforts will not really begin until the middle of this decade. By then, many 6G research projects will have reached their conclusion in Europe, China, South Korea, Japan, and North America. The results will then form the basis for standardization efforts.
What does 6G achieve?
Nevertheless, it is already possible to outline what 6G is supposed to achieve. The first figure commonly discussed in connection with mobile communications technology is the data rate. While 5G allows data rates of a maximum of 20 gigabits per second, there is talk about one terabit per second with 6G. That corresponds to 50 times the 5G speed. With 6G, however, it is no longer a question of how fast a movie can be downloaded – that was already not a real issue with 5G anymore. Rather, 6G will enhance the possibilities that are increasingly coming to the forefront with 5G: applications such as automated driving, 3D communication, or networked production.
Some people expect automated driving to become a reality only with 6G. Such a car will have all the sensors and computing power on board to drive safely. But in order to drive smoothly, it will have to rely on information from other road users, which will be made available to it via mobile communications, for example. That adds up to a whole lot of data that also has to be transmitted with extremely short delays if it is to be useful: a job for the higher data rate of 6G.
6G is supposed to be able to guarantee latency times of less than one millisecond
Not only that. 5G already provides the standard for a possibility to transmit vehicle communication with the infrastructure or other vehicles via the mobile network in a guaranteed period of time. This latency is at least one millisecond. 6G is supposed to be able to guarantee latency times of significantly less than one millisecond, which promises a decisive gain in response time for an automated vehicle.
6G could also enable the smooth 3D display of objects. This would be interesting, for example, for communication with realistic-looking avatars, holograms instead of video calls. Factories, meanwhile, could apply the concept of the digital twin extensively. A digital twin is the virtual counterpart of a machine or process in production. Thanks to a 6G network’s high data rate and low latency, digital twins could be used to monitor and analyze real production in the virtual world – in order to avoid unplanned downtime and keep the quality of manufactured products at a consistently high level.
6G will transmit between 110 and 170 gigahertz
6G will use old frequencies, similar to earlier transitions to new mobile technologies. These are frequencies in the range up to a few gigahertz. For 5G, the use of frequencies at 26, 28, or 39 gigahertz is also planned in a few years. But 6G is likely to break new ground. For the first time, a mobile communications technology will also transmit between 110 and 170 gigahertz. This so-called D-band still offers a lot of unused space. However, radio signals in this frequency range are heavily attenuated, so suitable antenna and amplifier technology must still be developed.
The higher frequencies would give the 6G network another feature that would be absolutely new. It could be used for precise positioning, to within a centimeter or possibly even better. A GPS signal or other methods of determining location would then be superfluous or would provide redundancy when high reliability is required. This function would make the mobile network a ubiquitous position sensor, so to speak.
DEKRA conducting research on 6G
Radio technologies such as 5G and 6G or radio technologies for traffic networking (V2X) are important topics at DEKRA. Thomas Jäger, Head of Technology Management in Product Testing, gives examples
What role do tests and certifications for 5G and V2X play for DEKRA?
Jäger: We operate sites in Europe, Asia, and North America to serve three needs. First: Regulatory required certificates of conformity for products entering the market. Second: Non-regulatory certifications for requirements formulated by industry groups. This can be regional or global. Third: Requirements from network operators, automotive manufacturers, and others – after all, 5G enables dedicated enterprise networks for the first time ever.
These sound like typical tasks for a testing organization.
Jäger: True, but unlike many competitors, DEKRA is also involved in research and development with partners. We contribute to new standards. For example, we are currently developing a test interface in cooperation with the European standards organization ETSI in order to be able to perform V2X vehicle testing in the future. After all, cars are turning into software platforms. For the development of automated driving, we additionally offer complete packages for testing in the lab, on our testing grounds, and in real traffic. But V2X also keeps us busy in other areas, such as communication between moving machines or between drones.
When will 6G play a role for DEKRA?
Jäger: Since this year, we have been participating in research projects, for example with universities or the Fraunhofer Institute. 6G is intended to be very cyber secure, a field in which DEKRA has extensive expertise. To bundle these within our company, we have established two hubs, one for cyber security and one for artificial intelligence.