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Cities urged to engage early on 6G

13 April 2021

by Sarah Wray

As they grapple with the pandemic, digital divide and upgrading to 5G, cities could be forgiven for putting 6G planning on the back burner for now.

However, as 6G research gathers pace around the world, experts from the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) are urging city leaders to make sure they have their say on shaping the next G.

Professor Will Stewart, Chair of the IET’s Digital Communications group, called the organisation’s recently published 6G for Policy Makers guide a “wake-up call” for stakeholders.

He told Cities Today: “Our policy makers need to gather together their first thoughts to be able to influence the coming global discussion that will shape 6G over the next three to five years and be fed into research priorities.”

While 6G isn’t expected to be commercially available until around 2030 and the next seven years at least will be focused on the evolution of 5G, Stewart noted that: “In the infrastructure game, the long-term thinking starts now for 6G.”

Competition of ideas

The IET report argues that the traditional approach to next-generation mobile technologies – seeking ever higher data speed in ever higher spectrum bands – is no longer sustainable and that a new business model is needed.

It says “high ambition” should be set for 6G, focused around societal challenges such as sustainable economic growth, pandemics and climate change. The report calls for the research phase of 6G to be “a competition of ideas” to build a consensus on the most promising areas of focus, while keeping the door open for ‘left field’ breakthrough discoveries.

Cities could provide important input here.

Stewart said: “All the basic challenges are a good place to start – for example, the high data speed coverage gaps from building shadowing, using less energy to deliver more capacity, making all the different networks (public/private, indoors/outdoors) more seamless, packing ever more services into the popular spectrum bands and not forgetting keeping up with ever more sophisticated security threats.”

“Then the next place to look might be the next wave of digital services a wireless infrastructure will be required to support,” he added.

Stewart urged city leaders to: “Think long term and find allies in other cities sharing the same ambitions.”

6G features

New capabilities that have been envisioned for 6G networks include the merging of sensing and communications technologies, creating the potential to visualise things which are typically invisible, such as pollution clouds, and ‘4D video’ where richer communications can convey ambient information. Teleoperations, telerobotics, and industrial automation are also expected to be leading 6G-enabled solutions.

Early visions for 6G, such as the one put forward by the University of Surrey’s 6G Innovation Centre, include a call for coverage innovations to ensure there is no digital divide. This could include using ‘intelligent surfaces’ and advanced satellite technology.

6G research projects are underway or planned in Japan, China, the United States, the UK, Finland, Germany, Europe and elsewhere.

A recent market research report predicted that 6G will be an integral part of communications, applications, content and commerce in cities by 2035.

Image: Szefei Dreamstime.com

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