6G too much? ‘Beyond 5G’ offers alternative

Marcus Weldon
Part of developing technology for 6G will depend on figuring out what 5G can't do, according to Nokia Bell Labs President Marcus Weldon. (Monica Alleven/FierceWireless)

NEW YORK—Considering that the industry is bickering over what constitutes a bona fide 5G launch and who’s doing what first, it may seem preposterous to talk about 6G, but that’s exactly what academics at NYU Wireless and researchers at Nokia Bell Labs need to do at this stage of the game. 

After all, it takes a while to conduct measurements, perform experiments and, overall, figure things out. With nearly every other generation of wireless, work started 10-15 years before anything went commercial, noted Marcus Weldon, CTO and president of Nokia Bell Labs, on the sidelines of the Brooklyn 5G Summit.

In fact, in kicking off the event on Wednesday, he reminded everyone that it’s a journey, “so we shouldn’t be too afraid to say 6G now, or ‘Beyond 5G’ if it makes you more comfortable.” It just means it will the 2030s before "it" sees the light of day.

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“I’m happy to talk about 6G. It sounds supercool, but it might end up being 5G Advanced once we’ve figured out exactly what it is we’re trying to do,” he told FierceWirelessTech.

RELATED: Qualcomm’s R&D chief: ‘There will be a 6G probably’

5G is going to last a decade, and the industry stakeholders who write the specifications for next-gen wireless technologies will have a lot to learn.

“The number of variants of 5G is huge,” he said, referring to millimeter wave and all the various spectrum bands, licensed and unlicensed, shared spectrum, Massive MIMO, different antenna configurations—and getting them deployed and commercial naturally takes a decade. On the back end of that, “we’ll have figured out what 5G can’t do,” he said.   

That is the great unknown: what won’t be achievable with 5G, given it’s still got at least 10 years to go. That said, knowledgeable industry insiders legitimately can argue about what constitutes an authentic 5G offering.

Weldon declined to comment on the current 5G marketing wars, but he did share his definition of 5G.

“To claim you’re really 5G, I think you need a low band that gives you nationwide coverage—higher efficiency on it; a mid-band for high capacity, relatively locally; and millimeter wave for super high capacity, extremely locally, and if you blend all those together, you’ve got a network that really is significant.”

With that definition, the industry won’t truly be at 5G for two or three years, and obviously operators are already launching 5G. But the early days of 5G are about enhanced mobile broadband; the more advanced low latency and machine-type communications are not there yet. And for that matter, more 5G specifications are coming down the pike in 3GPP Release 16 and 17.

During a round table with reporters on Thursday, Ted Rappaport, director and founder of NYU Wireless, said it’s imperative to support early R&D into emerging wireless technologies to remain competitive.

He said he’s proud the government stepped in and prevented the Broadcom acquisition of Qualcomm, but he’s disappointed when he hears the press laugh after President Trump says he wants 5G and maybe even in 6G.

“I know as an academic, watching the wireless industry grow, how vital it is to have research and development and respect for long-term leadership in intellectual property,” he said, pointing to Qualcomm and Nokia Bell Labs as examples of U.S. entities doing pioneering work.

“It’s not an arms race, but it’s vital for each country to maintain an intellectual property edge,” and it’s very important that the government at the very highest level supports efforts, especially in the U.S.. where STEM is in a greater rate of descent than in Asian countries, he said.

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