Go to Reviews.org AU Edition
What Is 6G?
Let’s cut to the chase. What is 6G? Well, the short answer is this: 6G is the next generation of mobile data technology. There was 4G and 5G, and 6G is next.
But we could also give this answer: no one really knows what 6G technology is because it doesn’t exist yet. It’s more hype than reality, kind of like that weird new crypto currency you just invested in. (Just kidding, we’re sure you’ll get rich …)
Confused? Don’t worry, we’ll explain everything you need to know about 6G mobile technology in this article.
What’s with all the Gs?
It feels like just yesterday that we were explaining what 5G is. Now we’re getting 6G. What is this, another Batman reboot? Sort of, but instead of having a crime-fighting billionaire as our hero, we’ve got mobile technology.
G stands for generation. So saying something is 6G is just saying it’s the sixth generation of mobile technology. It says nothing about the nature of that technology—it could be a more powerful version of 5G or it could be something completely different. We’ll talk more about that in a moment.
For now, you just need to know that 6G is, like the Batman IP, a placeholder more than anything else. We don’t know who will be the next actor to wear the batsuit yet. (I personally think it should be Daniel Kaluuya.)
What is the difference between 5G and 6G?
5G technology uses radio waves to send encoded data between towers and your personal 5G device. This is essentially the same as 4G, except it uses a new type of encoding called orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing. That’s a mouthful, so let’s just call it OFDM.
OFDM travels at frequencies of 100+ MHz, while 4G travels at frequencies of 20 to 160 MHz. In other words, 5G uses higher frequency waves, sometimes called millimeter waves, that transfer data faster than lower wavelengths, but don’t travel as far.
That’s the basics of 5G, though the technology is still being tweaked and refined all the time. Whatever 6G technology ends up being, it will be something different from 5G because, by definition, it will be a whole new generation of mobile technology.
While we can’t definitely answer the question what is 6G?, we can make some informed guesses ...
How 6G could work
As we explained above, 5G operates at a higher frequency than 4G. So, 6G could be a technology that uses even higher frequency waves. Ultra-high frequency waves that are in the hundreds of MHz or even terahertz range are potentially achievable. But it won’t be easy.
Ultra-high frequency waves are tiny and fragile and we don’t currently have any semiconductors that can use these waves. We also don’t have a solution for the short range of these waves. The switch from 4G to 5G required a whole new infrastructure of closely-knit towers—you may have seen these going up in your hometown. But with ultra-high frequency waves, there would need to be transmitters in even more locations.
Beyond the infrastructural issues, there are also organizational problems. 6G could reach speeds of 1 Tbps, which is like transferring everything in your computer's hard drive wirelessly in under one second! That’s probably at least 1,000 times faster than your home broadband internet speeds (which you can test here).
That kind of speed will require intense security and management, and some theorists think the only way to achieve that will be through artificial intelligence and so-called “edge computing” technology.
Is this the beginning of the robot apocalypse? Or is it the next step towards a utopian Star Trek future? It’s probably neither. Despite the hype, 5G hasn’t fundamentally altered our world. But, if you’re patient, you’ll probably be able to find out for yourself.
When will you get 6G?
Are you ready for a world where, when you’re at the drive through window, your car is driving itself, an AI interface is taking your order, and you play a virtual reality game on your phone while you wait for your food?
If you said no, then don’t worry, you’ve got some time. Honestly, we’re not ready for that either. And the 6G technology that might make all of that possible is probably at least a decade away. Ten years is about how long it took to go from 4G to 5G, and the leap to 6G is an even bigger hurdle. Maybe check back in with us in 2030.
Separating fact from fiction
China isn’t the only one claiming to have 6G technology. Samsung and other companies are flirting with the term to describe their newest innovations.1 This is reminiscent of the early conversation around 5G, when companies were touting 5G-networks that were actually just super-charged 4G networks.
While many companies and countries are working on new technology, it’s simply too early to call it 6G. That’s like coming up with a name for your awesome new rock n’ roll band before you’ve even written a song or learned guitar. (My band’s name is going to be The High Frequencies, so don’t steal it!)
Is 6G safe?
First, we need to answer the question: what is 6G? Then we can talk about its safety. But it’s likely that any technology that makes it to the mass market will be thoroughly tested for negative effects on humans. (Negative effects on your ability to focus on anything but your smartphone is another question.)
In other words, it’s too early to say. And that could really be the summary of this entire article: What is 6G? It’s too early to tell.