5G is being released in phases and goes through a standardization process. Release 15 (R15) is being deployed, and R16 was agreed upon earlier this year, yet we’re being conditioned to expect performance enhancements off the scale with 6G, which will be introduced in less than a decade.
Stalwart broadcast technology vendor Rohde & Schwarz has rounded up the current status of 5G, the next steps in its rollout, and crystal ball gazing into the 6G future.
“6G could offer high-fidelity holograms, multisensory communications (e.g. touch, taste and/or smell!), terahertz (THz) communications and pervasive artificial intelligence.”
In a white paper, Rohde & Schwarz says R15 provides a solid framework for enhanced network performance and that the standards organization 3GPP is actively working on further enhancements.
5G Media Production
In terms of media, Rohde & Schwarz notes that a 5G network can facilitate production by providing flexibility, reducing costs, and reducing communications setup times.
In a studio, media could be produced using wireless microphones connected to a variety of audio sources, including singers, musical instruments, and audio mixers. A 5G system can replace a costly and inflexible fixed infrastructure.
For newsgathering, a 5G system can be set up quickly to produce relevant AV media and supply this media to the central facility for further processing and distribution.
Where OBs are pre-planned (as opposed to the ad hoc nature of news) an elaborate AV infrastructure with numerous cameras, microphones, and mixers can be installed. A 5G system can facilitate media transmission from such event facilities to the central production base. Some media pre-processing could also be carried out locally. Sometimes a large coverage area is needed (e.g. at a cycling race) and an airborne 5G NG-RAN can be deployed.
In another example, a 360-degree spherical camera can be mounted on a drone. This UAV can communicate with a receiver on the ground to send 8K video to a server in the cloud: “People with AR glasses can then enjoy live video broadcast as if they were present at the venue.”
Because of its low latency, a 5G system could be used to deliver haptic feedback related to vibrations, temperature, texture, or electronic stimulus. Examples of haptic senses include vibrotactile sense, shear sense, thermal sense, and pneumatic sense.
A service could deliver haptic information or a “haptic Emoticon” for an enhanced communications experience by conveying emotions or feelings such as laughter and heartbeat, suggests the company. The haptic emoticon could be conveyed synchronously in real time together with voice and video or asynchronously.
3GPP is also evaluating extended reality (XR) services as part of its R17 study. Edge computing is expected to facilitate XR applications. In R17, 3GPP will evaluate various aspects of supporting XR, such as power consumption, capacity, and mobility.
6G Crystal Ball Gazing
If LTE stands for long term evolution, 5G is longer term evolution and 6G is embryonic. While an initial version of 6G might come around 2030, it will also undergo several years of revisions. Certainly, there will be higher data rates, perhaps terabits per second. Latencies may be as low as tens of microseconds.
Predicting what the standard will evolve to in 2035 is a fascinating but very speculative endeavor. It’s tantalizing though, and Rohde & Schwarz have had a stab by extrapolating from current trends.
“While industries including entertainment will begin to be influenced by 5G, they would be transformed on a larger scale by 6G,” the report states. “Services that require data rates even higher than ultra-high are inevitable.”
One possible service may be video wallpaper that uses large display technology to form the walls of a room with projected images.
“We are now seeing the emergence of 8K video, and data speeds to support 8K video are around 360 Mbps. Scaling this up to provide an immersive experience on each wall means that one wall may need well over 10 Gbps of communications speed for a real-time display. In this case, a terabit per second link is not an unreasonable need.”
Another postulation: Could it be possible to leverage the signal as a radar signal to get very precise localization for indoor flying UAVs?
While 5G will introduce holograms, 6G would likely enable high-fidelity holograms on a massive scale, Rohde & Schwarz suggest.
“High-fidelity holographic communications and multisensory communications could become part of our daily lives.”
Truly Customized QoE
Like 5G, network technologies for 6G will continue the use of network slicing. “However, 6G could take these concepts to the extreme, allowing customized network slices according to an individual’s needs and applications to create a truly customized quality of experience for that individual. Such a system with personalized network slices would inevitably leverage edge computing on a massive scale and create a very complex distribution of network responsibilities between the core network and edge computing nodes.”
Thousands of Wearable Radios
Another possible new application area is providing ultra-low-power communications to tiny devices through energy harvesting or wireless power. “Such devices could be part of the fabric of clothes or embedded into plastic or glass. They could constitute the communications between swarms of small UAVs or robots that can coordinate to perform complex tasks such as assembly and repairs. There may eventually be many thousands of radios per individual.”
Accomplishing this would require a standard with protocols that facilitate energy transfer (wireless power) or energy harvesting configuration merged with communications protocols.
The world around us will be significantly shaped by the upcoming enhancements in wireless communications. Be prepared to be amazed.