What is 6G?

6G refers to the forthcoming sixth generation of cellular broadband services, which are expected to be significantly faster than today’s 5G networks.

These services won’t be available in the near future: there’s currently no agreed 6G standard. However, companies including AT&T, Ericsson, Verizon, T-Mobile, Microsoft and Samsung are working together to define and develop the technologies that will power next-generation mobile networks.

Based on what researchers have revealed so far, it’s possible to make some long-term predictions about the arrival and impact of 6G.

When will 6G arrive?

There’s no formal roadmap for a rollout of 6G services, but historically the telecoms industry has delivered a new generation approximately once every decade, and providers have suggested that they hope to keep to that schedule. That would point to mainstream 6G networks coming online in around 2029, but the smart money appears to be 2030.

While the date is far from guaranteed, market demand will likely ensure that 6G isn’t delayed much beyond that timescale. Ten years after the introduction of 5G, existing connections will surely be struggling to keep up with the connectivity demands of the latest applications.

how fast will 6G be?

Much research into candidate technologies for 6G focuses on ultra-high-frequency radio transmissions. The 5G standard already supports so-called millimetre-wave connections at up to 40GHz; these can deliver connection speeds in excess of 3Gbits/sec over short distances. For 6G, researchers are exploring terahertz connections, with transmission frequencies going up to 3,000GHz.

This might enable connections a hundred times as fast as current 5G technology. Researchers in China have already demonstrated a prototype 6G network that can stream data at rates of more than 200Gbits/sec.

There’s one big challenge with this technology, however: increasing the frequency of a radio signal reduces its reach. It’s likely that delivering the full potential of 6G will require a massive expansion in infrastructure.

In addition to higher headline speeds, 6G also promises to reduce latency. Over a 5G network there’s typically a delay of around ten milliseconds between requesting data and receiving a response. 6G aims to get that time down to less than a millisecond, and some experts have proposed a target as low as one microsecond – 10,000 times faster than with 5G.

What benefits will 6G bring?

With massive bandwidth and near-zero latency, 6G will transform communications. Video calls will be pin-sharp and perfectly lag-free, and it will even be possible for people have live meetings and interactions in 3D virtual spaces – the so-called Metaverse.

Similarly, 6G will enable advanced augmented reality services. A 6G headset will be able to continually track your movements and activities, and provide instant, seamless feedback and information. Wearable devices will offer continual location and health monitoring, with always-on connections to medical resources and emergency services.

6G also has the potential to transform business structures by enabling people, computers, sensors and vehicles to stay fully in touch in real time, regardless of their location. The door will be opened to truly decentralised working arrangements.

6G in Summary

  • 6G will provide the fastest ever mobile internet connections, potentially a hundred times as fast as 5G. 
  • Its increased performance will enable true real-time communications in video and 3D, and power new experiences in VR and AR. 
  • 6G will also create new possibilities for remote and distributed working. 
  • However, the technology hasn’t yet been standardised, and is unlikely to be widely available before the end of the decade. 
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Darien Graham-Smith

Darien is one of the UK's most knowledgeable technical journalists. You will find him in PC Pro magazine, writing reviews for a variety of sites and on guitar with his band The Red Queens. His explainer articles help TechFinitive's audience understand how technology works.