Heavens Above – What’s after 5G?


I have been considering writing a blog over the festive period and have at last settled on a topic which although forward looking, is also timely.

I am out-trumping the industry race towards 5G and hailing the arrival of the subsequent network generation called unsurprisingly 6G which could be a reality within 20 years. You read it here first!

It might sound premature and far-fetched but actually is relevant today as it will affect the development of the industry and should be taken into consideration when defining 5G which the GSMA announced should be standardised by 2017, with the first implementations expected by 2020.

To understand what 6G might be, let’s look at the roadmap and current momentum achieved through 4G, 5G and IoT. One of the aspects of 4G which is relevant is that it has provided standardisation and harmonisation globally and therefore provides one base line for the future.

As a headline, 5G promises Gigabit download speeds, but in my view more importantly promises to utilise the combined intelligent of the network and end device to provide a best customer experience across a heterogeneous mesh of access methods, including WiFi (unlicensed spectrum) and Mobile networks (licensed spectrum). Fundamentally I hope 5G will achieve the optimisation of all terrestrial access methods providing a seamless experience for the end user. The limitation of this generation of network connectivity is that terrestrial connectivity is very costly to implement and maintain and only provides limited coverage as base stations technology currently only provide coverage for 7% of the globe surface area, expecting to grow by no more than 1% YoY.

IoT is the meshup of machines, devices, actuators and sensors, collectively called “things” which will communicate with each other to provide more intelligent decisions for humans, without necessarily involving human interaction. I see clusters of interdependent satellites being an embodiment of IoT as well as an enabling technology.

I believe 6G will logically combine the benefits with the terrestrial access methods provided by 5G with a carpet of interlinked low orbiting satellites to provide consistent ubiquitous high bandwidth connectivity, either by region or globally.

What does this mean in practice?

  • For 5G to provide the right foundation, we need a global agreement on allocation of spectrum, meaning that each country implements the same spectrum allocation with 5G. In addition, this harmonised approach needs to take into consideration any bandwidth requirements for the satellite system envisaged with 6G.
  • Nations will need to rethink communications control based on geographical boundaries. I believe 6G will become a truly international asset similar to the World Wide Web. This means that communication will no longer be the hostage to national licensing agreements and therefore any Operators entering into national licensing agreements need to factor this into any future negotiations now.
  • Regions such as the EU will need to truly harmonise the communications landscape and not leave it for each country to implement their own interpretations of standards.
  • From a satellite perspective the skies will need to be cleaned up with an orbit needing to be internationally agreed and made available. One of the main challenges being the removal of debris and agreeing ownership, control and maintenance.

As you can see, there are many challenges, but the overriding challenge will be the willingness of individuals and countries to co-operate. Given the altruistic goal of improved communications for all mankind, I hope this becomes a reality.

Happy New Year!

From your IFG Consulting Europe team!

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