We expect 6G to hit the market around 2030, but we don’t really know what 6G is yet. This is a question our industry needs to answer in the next ten years. Can we find the right answer to satisfy consumers, enterprises, verticals, the mobile communications industry, and society at large? This is a new test for our industry.
If we look at the adoption of wireless communications technology, 5G is integrated into verticals more deeply and widely than any of its predecessors. The mobile communications industry has forged many alliances with verticals, such as 5GAA and 5G-ACIA. These alliances have helped define 5G in a way that meets the unique requirements of these verticals. However, 5G rollouts have stimulated new demand that cannot be met by 5G itself. That’s where 5.5G, which delivers enhanced capabilities, comes into play. And without a doubt, 5.5G will further stimulate more new demand that only 6G can address.
Looking into these new demands will be crucial to defining 6G. This requires verticals to take part in defining 6G like never before. After decades of iterative development, 5G has become highly capable of fulfilling and stimulating consumer needs. 5.5G will maximize the strengths of core 5G technologies. In the next few years, the process of defining and deploying 5.5G will go side-by-side with the research into and definition of 6G. Will 6G reach unprecedented heights and how much further can it go? This will be a test for our industry’s imagination and innovation.
If we look at the technology itself, no single generation of mobile communications technology exists in isolation. They all need to learn from, absorb, and develop together with other available technologies. Mobile communications have enjoyed enormous success. But we should never forget the wrong turns we have taken along the way. In the 3G era, we opted for ATM before finally switching to IP. We had high hopes for the convergence of IT and communications technology in the 4G era, and still hold those same hopes for the 5G era. However, current progress still falls short of our expectations. The industry is still feeling its way forward.
In the 6G era, we will face a more complex technological environment. It will be shaped by cloud computing, big data, artificial intelligence, block chain, edge computing, heterogeneous computing, and intrinsic security. Where will 6G take us? We need to make technical choices in a rational way. We need to draw on diverse technologies to make 6G more valuable, rather than just allowing it to become more complex and bloated. Achieving this will require the entire ICT industry to bring the scientific truth to a process of extensive and in-depth discussions. This will be a test of our industry’s foresight and resolve.
If we look at the industry as a whole, 6G will have to develop in a very complex macro environment starting from its initial research phase. It has taken more than 40 years for the mobile communications industry to advance from 1G to 5G. The market has become relatively mature; we are no longer a fast-growing sector. Partnerships to build economies of scale are more important than ever. But just at this moment, geopolitical turmoil and de-globalization are creating obstacles and challenges to cooperation across the global industry.
Greater innovation is the only way for the mobile communications industry to break out of this impasse. But it must be tempered by the needs of technology ethics, which are coming under unprecedented scrutiny. A proper balance between these two is crucial if we want to bring more of the benefits of mobile communications to the world. Mobile communications have been an integral part of our lives and work for a long time now. The choices that our industry makes today will affect its development for the next 10 to 20 years. The mobile communications industry needs to effectively address these challenges if it wants to develop sustainably and bring more convenience to people. This is a test of our industry’s political savvy and commitment to our mission.
It’s clear that defining 6G will require much more effort from the industry than any previous generations, and the pandemic has made essential discussions and partnerships more difficult. Ten years may sound like a long time, but it passes very quickly. Whether or not we will provide a satisfactory answer by 2030 will depend on some crucial factors: Was the process of defining 6G open? Was there broad participation from a diverse range of players? Was there sufficient engagement? Have we delivered an attractive 6G vision?
These issues are also what this book is intended to address. Huawei began investing in 6G research in 2017, when we were also driving 5G commercial deployment. This book explains the findings of Huawei’s research on 6G to date. We hope that it will inspire more people, companies, and industries to bring broader and deeper perspectives to 6G. Huawei is also ready and willing to engage with our industry peers, with industry verticals, and with enterprises that may need 6G. Let’s envision and define 6G together.
*English version of the Foreword by Eric Xu for the Chinese version of the book “6G: The Next Horizon.”