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A New Definition of 6G

We now know how wireless carriers are going to continue the string of new G generations of cellular technology.

5G was originally defined to include spectrum up to 90 GHz or 100 GHz. In the last few years, international standards bodies have been developing new 6G standards in what is called the terahertz wavelengths between 100 GHz and 1 THz. By definition, these higher frequency bands are the remaining part of the radio spectrum, and so the 6G being defined by international scientists will be the final generation of G technology.

These super-high frequencies have a lot of interesting potential for indoor uses since this spectrum can transmit an immense quantity of data over short distances. But the high frequencies might never be used for outdoor broadband because the extremely short radio waves are easily distorted and scattered by everything in the environment, including air molecules.

Scientists have speculated that transmissions in the terahertz frequencies can carry 1,000 times more data than the current 5G spectrum bands. That’s enough bandwidth to create the 3D holograms needed for convincing virtual presence (and maybe my home holodeck).

But terahertz frequencies are going to be of little use to the cellular carriers. While cellular companies have still not deployed a lot of the 5G standards, the marketing folks at these companies are faced with a future where there would be no more G generations of cellphones—and that is clearly a lost marketing opportunity.

Several of the wireless equipment vendors have started to refer to bandwidths in the centimetric range as 6G. These are frequencies between 7GHz and 20 GHz. I have to admit that I got a really good belly laugh when I read this because much of these frequencies are already in use—so I guess 6G is already here!

When 5G was first announced, the big news at the time was that 5G would open up the millimeter-wave spectrum between 24 GHz and 40 GHz. The equipment vendors and the cellular carriers spent an immense amount on lobbying and advertising, talking up the wonders of millimeter-wave spectrum. Remember the carefully staged cellular commercials that showed gigabit speeds on cell phones? That was done using millimeter-wave spectrum.

But now, the marketing folks have pulled a big switcheroo. They are going to rename currently used spectrum as 6G. I guess that means millimeter-wave spectrum will become 7G. This also leaves room for several more generations of G marketing before reaching the 100 GHz terahertz spectrum.

This will clearly cause a mountain of confusion. The international folks are not going to rename what they have already labeled as 6G to mollify the cellular marketers. We’re going to have articles, advertising, and lobbying talking about two completely different versions of 6G. And before the ink is dry, we’ll also be talking about 7G.

The cellular vendors also want us to change the way we talk about spectrum. The folks at Nokia are already suggesting that the newly dubbed 6G spectrum bands should be referred to as midband spectrum—a phrase today that refers to lower spectrum bands. That sets the stage for talking about upper bands of frequency as 7G, 8G, and 9G.

What is funniest about this whole process is that there still isn’t even any 5G being used in the world. The cellular carriers have implemented only a small portion of the 5G specification. But that hasn’t deterred the marketers who have convinced everybody that the new bands of spectrum being used for 4G are actually 5G. It’s a pretty slick marketing trick that lets stops the cellular carriers from not having to explain why the actual 5G isn’t here yet.

By Doug Dawson, President at CCG Consulting

Dawson has worked in the telecom industry since 1978 and has both a consulting and operational background. He and CCG specialize in helping clients launch new broadband markets, develop new products, and finance new ventures.

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