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  • In 2019, after years of waiting, 5G wireless networks and devices finally became a reality.

  • And even then, it took some time for the technology to become widespread, well, widespread in some parts of the world, like the US and China.

  • But now, at last, I can look at my phone screen and see a little 5G icon in the corner and, feels good.

  • Okay so, when are we getting 6G already, let's go. I'm bored!

  • Now to state the obvious, 6G doesn't exist yet, but that doesn't mean people aren't already thinking about how to make it a reality.

  • 6G, short for the sixth generation of wireless technology, promises to be incredible.

  • The numbers that get thrown around when industry leaders theorize about what it could do are mind boggling.

  • Numbers like download speeds up to a terabyte per second, and latency as low as 0.1 milliseconds.

  • Basically, the idea is that devices will be able to move a ludicrous amount of data with almost no delay.

  • And that's great news if you're a mobile gamer and lag keeps losing you matches.

  • The possibilities 6G opens up are truly in the realm of sci-fi.

  • A 6G network could support life-sized holograms, finally making it possible to send a distress call to Obi-Wan Kenobi.

  • Or it could be how chips implanted in our brains communicate with other devices,

  • like artificial limbs or remotely controlled avatars in dangerous environments.

  • It could connect a web of smart devices, and not just a phone and a smartwatch and maybe augmented reality glasses.

  • One vision of the 6G future imagines flexible screens all over the place, from tables to clothing to water bottles.

  • Each of these little devices wouldn't just use the 6G network to function, they might in fact make up the network itself.

  • Rather than the system we use today where our phones connect to towers in a hub and spoke model,

  • each of these little smart devices could be a node in a mesh network.

  • Their proximity to each other and ubiquity would make it possible to send data at terahertz frequencies, which can't travel very far.

  • Experts think because of how much unused bandwidth is available in this Terahertz range, it's going to be the secret sauce that makes all this 6G goodness possible.

  • But that's pretty much the only thing we're sure of at the moment, because work to explore the possibilities of 6G is in its very early stages

  • and the technology isn't expected to arrive until about 2030.

  • Heck, the standards for 5G were only just hammered out.

  • Like 6G, 5G requires the use of much higher frequencies than older networks to meet its potential.

  • 5G uses, or at least plans on using, the 24GHz to 100 GHz range.

  • These frequencies have wavelengths measured in millimeters and can enable download speeds as fast as multiple gigabits per second.

  • But the same frequencies that make shifting that much data possible, don't travel very far and can be blocked by windows or even leaves on a tree.

  • Because of this and our unwillingness to get rid of all windows and trees, millimeter wave networks have only been deployed in dense urban areas

  • where they provide the most return for the cost of installation, and even then they only cover tiny patches.

  • One report from the first few months of 2021 found that users of America's big 3 networks with compatible phones

  • were getting the most out of 5G just 0.5 to 0.8 percent of the time.

  • The rest of the time they're getting performance that's almost identical, or sometimes slightly worse, than 4G.

  • So, if implementing mobile technology that operates at a 100 gigahertz maximum has been slow-going so far,

  • you can imagine the hurdles that will arise when technology that uses Terahertz frequencies is introduced.

  • But that's far in the future. Mobile phone circuitry that can even use this spectrum doesn't exist yet.

  • Neither do the mathematical models for how to best route data through a mesh network.

  • For telecom companies, 6G is still a distant problem that they're not too focused on while they race to deliver on the promise of 5G right now.

  • And when the day finally comes and all the ads for phones and carriers have a giant 6 emblazoned across them,

  • just remember how 5G was an incremental change at first and be ready for the next generation to follow the same pattern.

  • If you want to know how we got to 5G, check out Amanda's episode on it here.

  • So, what about you? Have you noticed a difference in 5G yet?

  • Let us know in the comments, don't forget to subscribe, and I will see you next time on Seeker!

In 2019, after years of waiting, 5G wireless networks and devices finally became a reality.

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5G Just Got Here, But Where Is 6G?

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    Summer posted on 2021/07/16
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