The Need for Speed: 6G development is underway with many potential uses for contractors

By Claire Swedberg | Mar 15, 2024
The Need for Speed: 6G
The release of 6G, the sixth generation of technology for wireless communications, is years out, but now is the time to learn and plan for it. 




The release of 6G, the sixth generation of technology for wireless communications, is years out, but now is the time to learn and plan for it. Before many people even have 5G phones, 6G development is underway, and that standard is likely to affect the work contractors and integrators have ahead.

Research is underway worldwide on the coming standardization, with the first phase of 6G expected to appear in 2025. The first 6G specification is predicted to be completed by the end of 2028, and it is expected that the first 6G products will be commercialized in 2030, said Patrik Persson, 6G program manager director at Ericsson Research in Stockholm, Sweden. 

While 5G has affected connectivity on some remote work sites and influences what wireless technology can be built into today’s structures, such as internet of things systems, 6G may have a greater effect on several facets of electrical work.

How 6G compares to 5G

Speed and latency will distinguish 6G from 5G. 

The 6G standard may leverage a broad range of frequencies from 100 gigahertz (GHz) to 3 terahertz (THz). For its use across cities and more rural areas, infrastructure adjustments will include antennas and semiconductors, other radio technologies, sensors and power saving systems.

According to public statements by electronics manufacturer Samsung, the THz band provides an enormous amount of available spectrum, which will enable wideband channels with tens of gigahertz-wide bandwidth. 

This could mean unprecedented speed. The peak data rate could be 50 times faster than 5G and the over-the-air latency could potentially be reduced to one-tenth.

Smart cities, robots and connected work sites

But 6G is about more than just speed. IEEE has reported that 6G will support technological advancements including virtual reality, artificial intelligence and augmented reality. That means enabling more smart city solutions, interconnections between cars, wearable devices and robots. Also, smart technology will be part of construction work sites with an ability to bring mobile intelligence to temporary sites.


The use of 6G will support advancements in technology including virtual reality, artificial intelligence and augmented reality.

With or without towers

However, deployment of 6G systems could still require a proliferation of gateways or dedicated cell towers for the amount of data being sent and collected. In the future, developers may find new ways to extend wireless signals far enough to avoid building thousands of new 6G cell towers, but that has yet to be seen. With or without new towers, the buildings of the future may need to accommodate the need for hardware that enables 6G connectivity.

So, when considering what 6G will mean for electrical contractors, there are numerous issues arising that could affect their work, said Muriel Medard, NEC professor of software science and engineering in the electrical engineering and computer science department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She leads the Network Coding and Reliable Communications Group in MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics.

While 6G plans are still a work in progress, Medard sees some interesting opportunities and challenges worth considering. For one thing, the spectrum of higher frequencies is a 6G feature that bears watching.

“There’s a lot of spectrum there,” and the 6G spectrum will require accommodation, she said.

Transmissions in the higher frequencies have a shorter range than traditional lower­-frequency 3G, 4G or 5G systems. 

Because of the shorter range, Medard thinks there may be issues based on the ability to connect some systems without a larger network of antennas.

Furthering that challenge could be use of high volumes of sensor data and direct communication between devices. She foresees ways that the electrical industry may provide support ahead.

Communications and power

An infrastructure effort that might ease 6G network deployments involves piggybacking onto electric cables using existing schemes that leverage the current, and modulating it to transmit data. This approach can be used in the main power line transmissions and narrowband in-house applications.

Such U.S. deployments are limited so far, but many have been installed or tested in Europe and Asia, especially in areas that are highly congested wirelessly “or in places where there’s a very high density of construction,” according to Medard.

Because of the value of using existing infrastructure to power the many antennas needed for 6G systems, she said there may be some renewed interest in the United States. With that in mind, contractors may one day consider wiring to access to energize and communicate with antennas and sensors, not just for AC/DC power.

Making space for more antennas

With the wide variety of data sets, sensor information and edge computing that will come with 6G, there will be a need for more small access points in cities, buildings and homes. ECs could accommodate the need for antennas and access points while installing the electrical infrastructure, Medard said. In urban areas, for example, leaving a little bit of space for unobtrusive access points or antennas may future-proof a facility or structure.

Medard doesn’t suggest electrical contractors change their installation plans immediately, “but planning could be food for thought.”

How fast the changes take place is yet to be determined. The transition to faster, more powerful wireless technology has already affected connectivity at remote or temporary work sites. 

While 4G was optimized for personal smartphone use, 5G has pushed into commercial and industrial areas, enabling the networking of industrial robotics, for instance. 

Most users indicate that 5G has well served tailored enterprise networking needs, and with that in mind, “6G is likely to be focused toward these kinds of applications” as well, Medard said.

Research and development

Companies such as Ericsson are working with and testing early 6G research concepts using a 6G prestandardization testbed.

“Many new use cases are foreseen for a cyber-physical world of 2030 and beyond, toward end-users, enterprises and operators,” Persson said.

Several 6G use cases are natural evolutions of 5G use cases that become more advanced with improved and extended network capabilities. 

“Other use cases target improved efficiency of current services or sustainability benefits and use cases that benefit society,” he said. Those can include efficient food production or earth monitoring for environmental issues.

Access to the new spectrum is one challenge and is pending discussions on future allocations. The new standard also depends on investments in new technology unless it is clear how to enable early 6G monetization.

Another uncertainty is how long 6G deployment will take. To facilitate a smooth rollout, industries that have already adopted 5G SA may fare best, Persson said.

When it comes to infrastructure expansions, if any, Persson said, “We believe it will be a step-wise technology adoption driven by network demand and monetization opportunities; 6G will be built on 5G.”

5G still rolling out

Based on the slow rollout of 5G, technology companies and standards organizations have not yet determined just how much innovation will be part of the 6G standard.

“There is a lot of push to try to make 6G more innovative, but you know, time will tell,” Persson said, even as 5G is well on its way to being deployed globally.

Just as 4G was an improvement on 3G in mobile data, 6G will likely be a continued improvement of the “5G triangle” of extreme mobile broadband, ultra-reliable low-latency communication and massive machine-type communication services, while adding new capabilities for delivering networking in the cyber-physical world.

In the meantime, 5G work continues to evolve, and it offers numerous benefits that are still growing, according to Kameda Keiji, general manager of the mobile solutions division at Anritsu Corp., Morgan Hill, Calif.

For example, Anritsu, in collaboration with Sony Semiconductor Israel, has extended what can be done with non­terrestrial network (NTN) narrowband internet of things (NB-IoT). 

This development is a significant step in extending IoT connectivity, especially in remote areas, Keiji said.

The initiative marks “a crucial advancement for various industries, including maritime, logistics and automotive, enabling solutions in areas without conventional network coverage,” he said.

This collaboration boosts current IoT capabilities and sets the stage for the integration of satellite technologies into a wider array of devices. 

NTN NB-IoT is a key IoT feature that is useful in cases where the devices need to be deployed in remote regions without terrestrial cell network coverage. Other steps are underway to expand the 5G standard. 

“That’s why 6G work is underway almost in parallel of 5G,” Persson said. “It’s common for work to start as long as a decade prior to any real implementation of a new network technology.” 

Ericsson / / zirconicusso / AndSus

About The Author

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at [email protected].





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