The ICT ecosystem has played a crucial role in unleashing novel high-performance mobile tech based on the research and development of common technology standards. Early research work has already begun on developing potential 6G use cases, each of which is enabled by a set of technical requirements which form the basis of the technical work needed for 6G to happen.
That early 6G work is based on the technical breakthroughs achieved with 5G. Indeed today, the world is experiencing the many benefits of 5G: users enjoy faster download speeds, more immersive gaming experiences, and more innovative healthcare and public services as just a few examples.
What seemed like science fiction before 5G has become reality in a relatively short time with applications now deployable at scale with the required quality of experience (QoE). Sure enough, this trajectory will soon take us to 5G Advanced and then 6G for which use-cases need to be developed and early technology roadmaps laid out.
What is the Next G Alliance?
This is where the North American Next G Alliance comes in. As part of the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS), the Next G Alliance is an initiative to advance North American wireless technology leadership through private sector initiatives and with a strong focus on 6G development in North America.
As an active player in the Next G Alliance workgroup for applications and use-cases around 6G, Ericsson recently contributed to a joint report on future 6G applications and use cases, with the goal of fostering innovation and encouraging uptake of applications that have not been imagined yet.
So, how do those 6G use cases look? And what can we begin to imagine for future 6G systems? Let’s take a look.
6G use cases and requirements
Today, a number of concrete 6G use-cases have been substantiated that all take inspiration of how we might live our lives in the future. Some may seem futuristic, yet the goal has been to identify use cases in each area that can give an idea of what requirements 6G will face.
The Next G Alliance report presents four different 6G use case groups:
Network enabled robotics and autonomous systems
In this category, for instance, the focus is on substantially further increasing productivity in manufacturing. This is achieved through highly connected field robots performing tasks in hazardous environments, such as mines and chemical plants, to protect and ensure workers’ safety. High data rates and low latency allow for the transmission of high-definition images and much better control of the robots. As the world strives to overcome supply issues and further support remote telepresence, 6G can enable a fluid production model. Customer needs can be met with requirements set to guarantee maximum production times, meaning real-time control of thousands of devices. 6G’s high accuracy positioning and layered AI and cognitive solutions offer algorithms that allocate resources based on demand and customer input. Mobile robots and drones become an integral part of the future factory. That requires the level of communications system 6G is designed to be, allowing factories to be self-organizing and self-healing.
Multi-sensory extended reality
Extended reality in the 6G era range is expected to build on the advances made by 5G systems, with use cases ranging from immersive gaming and entertainment, to drone racing and highly immersive education. Most of the use cases in this category require balancing latency and throughput to deliver highest quality media, allow for real-time interactions and delivering unique user experiences. Most of the examples in this category require wearables and special headsets. This specific market holds the potential for early monetization.
Distributed sensing and communications
Distributed sensing illustrates the evolution in methods for remote data gathering, touting the opportunities for remote healthcare, remote infrastructure and environmental monitoring. In-body networks can boost patient satisfaction by affording them the comfort to receive care from their own homes based on data their physician receives from implanted sensors.
Personalized user experiences
6G personalized user experiences are expected to deliver a range of desirable and very relatable use cases that alleviate everyday stressors and save time. One example includes virtual sales consultants (an avatar) that can assist in shopping for clothes based on the customer’s personalized measurements, style, and needs. 3D visualizations with 360-degree product views would help consumers make better and faster purchasing decisions. This offers value for the consumer and could increase sales for the retailer.
How will 6G be different from 5G?
In 2030, society will have been shaped by 5G for ten years. Multisensory communication, social robots, holographic communication, digital twins, lightweight wearable haptics, brain computer interfaces and an Internet of senses will be among many norm-changing applications supported on 5G. However, many of these same applications are considered as fundamental 6G use cases. So, what is the difference?
We at Ericsson think that the following are some of the 6G differentiators that will not only significantly improve the adoption rate of 5G applications, as well as the deployment scale, performance, and quality of experience, but will also usher in this new era of futuristic applications and use cases that are being discussed today with the Next G Alliance.
Scale and limitless connectivity: Spectrum is the oxygen of both technological success and the evolution of society, and the allocation of 6G spectrum will play a crucial role in unleashing many of the use cases mentioned above. 6G ought to enable a truly limitless connectivity that meets the demand for communication ‘anywhere, anytime, and for anything’. Wireless communications will be enabled by expanded spectrum in the mid-bands but also Terahertz which will provide the opportunity for very accurate sensing based on radar-like technology. Future radio access is targeted to utilize the entire spectrum range from 450 MHz to beyond 100 GHz. Lower frequencies will be needed for wide-area coverage for future 6G services and very high frequencies for extreme data rates enabling specific scenarios. This combination will lay a foundation for one of the key differentiators of future 6G systems: advanced applications at scale. The significant increase in 6G data rates will enable deployments of advanced services at scale such as immersive reality, holographic communication, photorealistic avatars, haptic communications, remote operations and the Internet of senses.
Privacy and Security: In 6G, privacy will be at the center of engineering design work as some 6G applications such as XR or social robots could face challenges with societal acceptance. For instance, lightweight 6G-enabled XR devices run the risk of capturing, manipulating, and transmitting personal data such as the location and/or faces of non-consenting by-standers. Social robots such as home companions or airport information receptionists could face the same challenge since they collect data about people they interact with. Networks of the future ought to play an important role in ensuring societal privacy rules are adhered to.
Cognitive networks: Networks will gradually become cognitive systems with the ability to sense, reason, acquire new knowledge, and act autonomously. They will be fully controlled by intent-based technologies, while humans can focus on defining services and setting operational goals to fulfil business objectives. The key enablers for this evolution will be data-driven operations, distributed intelligence, continuous learning, intent-based automation, and explainable and trustworthy AI. Moreover, all these technologies will have to be combined to work in synergy across different aspects of functional architecture, deployment scenarios and responsibility areas of different vendors and CSPs.
Network compute fabric: 6G will further flatten networks, compute and storage. In the future, applications can be run from literally anywhere such as close to the users when needed or on the other side of the globe. They can also take any form, such as a disaggregated model where computing can take place in the mobile device and other parts of the application in a single cloud or different clouds.
Which technology use cases will 6G comprise?
From a technology point of view, the roadmap to 6G will be executed similar to previous mobile generations in the form of ‘Releases’ as part of the standards bodies 3GPP, ITU-R, and IETF. We will see the 5G technologies enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), ultra-reliable and low-latency communication (URLCC) and massive machine-type communication (mMTC) be enhanced to eMBB+, URLCC+ and mMTC+ as part of 5G Advanced. 6G, however, will significantly expand the technology landscape so that exciting applications as mentioned above can be supported. Notably, we will see the emergence of immersive communication technologies, advanced spatio-temporal services, native compute-AI, among others.
One example of a new technology which is only possible in the 6G era is where communication and sensing functionalities are undertaken jointly. It makes 6G environmentally aware and is often referred to as ‘joint communication and sensing’.
The inclusion of sensing capabilities in a communication network is a very promising area that presents many opportunities and challenges. For instance, it enables exciting new use cases where spatial sensing can be offered as a service to users or applications that are external to the network. The ability to infuse senses and transmit them in a manner that is authentic to the human mind will open the doors to new fascinating sets of applications and use cases. It will also be a driver for reducing costs as the new technology would collapse some of the intermediatory XR steps that are required in 5G.
Sensing-as-a-service is an integral part of the network that has been identified as a novel feature of future 6G systems. To develop that area, Ericsson has teamed up with NXP Semiconductors to design networks where communication and sensing functionalities are fully integrated into the same transmission/reception nodes.
In the 6G ecosystem, we will also see a much stronger push towards platform thinking where developers and software integrators can natively interact with the network to configure it to the applications’ needs in real-time. We will see the emergence of network application programming interfaces (APIs) which will be of enormous use for human and machine applications in consumer and industry markets.
6G networks will also be significantly more energy efficient , and Ericsson is working actively to enable a future with zero-energy devices and carbon-neutral networks. To support this journey into 6G, we continue to innovate our radio and networking product portfolio . For instance, only recently, we launched two new radios that apply passive cooling at significantly reduced power consumption and that are powered by next-generation Ericsson Silicon.
New 6G revenue opportunities
Today’s 5G consumer market research shows that consumers would be willing to pay more for mobile connectivity, with one in three consumers globally saying they would pay a 20 percent premium for high quality mobile coverage. This could add up to 34 percent to the 5G ARPU by 2030.
But what about 6G and where can future revenue opportunities be found? As a starting point, we expect markets to consolidate 5G opportunities but also create entirely novel revenue streams for 6G use casesIn terms of these new top line opportunities, emerging applications such as holographic communications or the metaverse allow for premium charging. CSPs could even go as far as offering in-metaverse services, spanning from supporting advanced social interactions to conducting business in the metaverse.
Also, the enterprise market journey which started with 5G will consolidate in 6G. Private networks will enjoy augmented capabilities regarding 5G and thus support a growing number of Industry 4.0 and wider enterprise applications.
An exciting and so far underexplored opportunity is around APIs. What is starting in 5G will consolidate in 6G such as the ability of developer operation (devops) communities to natively ‘speak’ to mobile networks and thus improve services, drive innovation on the network and develop differentiated offerings within consumer and industry verticals. The monetization opportunities for CSPs in this area could be exponential as APIs can be charged per use.
Next steps to 6G in North America
While 5G will serve us well for the coming decade and beyond, the emerging expectations are setting a clear target for us in the industry and research community: 6G should contribute to an efficient, human-friendly, sustainable society through ever-present intelligent communication.
To this end, Ericsson has contributed to the Next G Alliance’s 6G vision to ensure a proactive North American perspective on what is required to power a range of emerging applications yet to be imagined.
This innovation is vital to North America’s market growth, as indeed it is for the rest of the world. It also hugely impacts the quality of life for consumers since the envisaged 6G enhancements are expected to expand human interaction with devices and systems to provide enriched immersive experiences. In a 6G future when more than half of the current smartphone users will have lightweight XR glasses, networks will be flooded with a massive amount of traffic requiring very low latency which 5G has not been designed for. The support of XR devices at scale and other applications at scale must be a fundamental part of the 6G design and architecture.
Find out more about 6G
To learn more about the Next G Alliance’s 6G use-cases and their in-depth discussion or examples and technical requirements, read this report: 6G Applications and Use Cases. And join us on our 6G journey to designing the next generation mobile technology.
Read the Ericsson Blog post on joint communication and sensing in 6G networks, as well as this further reading on the NXP blog.
Learn more about the various US-based collaborations that are building the long and winding road to 6G.
Find out more about the five key technologies propelling futuristic 6G use cases.
Learn more about 6G spectrum and why it’s fundamental to realizing the 6G vision.
Find out more about cognitive networks in the end-to-end 6G architecture.
Read the Next G Alliance roadmap to 6G.