In 2012 I had the opportunity to write one of the first articles on 5G. Long story short, I envisioned 5G to be an intelligent technology that would connect the world without boundaries. As we have come to learn, the 5G that is now rolled out is very much related to communication with machines and making them interact with each other at a scale never seen before.
Now, this piece is about 6G and not 5G. But there is one thing that perhaps strikes you. My 5G article from 2012 was published ten years ago, and 5G was sort of formalized in 2020. As every new “G” takes about 10 years to realize, you and I both know that 6G is about 8 years away.
So what will 6G be like?
My distinct feeling is that it will not be as machine-centric. You must understand that the way for the Telcos to grow their customer base can not be the same thing as 5G. When 5G successfully has connected many of the machines, i.e. Massive IoT is deployed at scale, then the revenue and growth have to come from somewhere else. And if you look at it from that perspective the focus has to be different. Adding more technology-centered to humans will make sense because it is another revenue stream. But it is not all about the money, because in the semi-near future, there will be a market for human-centric networks.
So is 6G the same as me of things?
As you may recall I have written some posts about me of things, sensors that we wear that will interact with IoT ecosystems. I leave it to you to read more about that in this blog post. But I don’t think that me of things is the same as 6G. Me of things is happening now but will be based on Bluetooth, WiFi, and to some extent 4G/5G. Of course the me of things market will not just die, it will continue to grow, but the cellularly connected me of things revolution will happen regardless of 6G.
Will the shared spectrum still be as important as today?
But we will still use wearables and smart devices in the future right? Yes for sure. But I am certain more and more of them will not be connected to WiFi but instead, use a controlled spectrum like cellular networks. Put it this way, why should we invest in fast wifi, when there is already a wireless network available and ready to be deployed? Due to lag, security issues, and coverage problems, more and more organizations are moving from WiFi to 5G. There is also a 5G standard called NR-U that more likely will be used in favor of WiFi (note to myself that there is no blog post written about NR-U yet in this blog).
So what is 6G then?
It will be faster. Let us all agree on that. It will go beyond 5G speeds. I have defined 6G to be this:
“6G unites different worlds, the human, physical and digital worlds, into one. “
6G is aiming for latency below 1ms, which is going to result in new technological innovations.
Would this essentially mean the Internet of Everything? NTT DoCoMo’s vision is that 6G will enable “cyberspace to support human thought and action in real-time through wearable devices and micro-devices mounted on the human body.”
Now we are getting close to my headline. Let us look at the Metaverse predictions:
What is Metaverse?
The metaverse is a network of virtual worlds with a focus on social connections. It is said to be the next version of the Internet with a single universal virtual world. A world strongly supported by VR and AR. Like many cool things (like GSM, Internet, and IoT) we heard about in the 90s for the first time. Metaverse was first mentioned in 1992, and then forgotten for decades. The term was dug up by Facebook which changed its name to meta. They announced a virtual reality (VR) powered metaverse to be the next big thing.
So the idea behind metaverse is to create a world, where you will interact with others. “You” in this case is your avatar. You will be able to use metaverse as a social network, you will be able to do transactions, play games, go to conferences and even have business meetings. A parallel universe where people interact with each other. Metaverse could mean working from home but interacting with your colleagues at work using AR/VR, well if you could stand having these VR glasses on for 40 hours per week, right?
So what do we need to make the metaverse possible?
Today we understand that VR devices are quite at an early stage and that they are being developed into something smaller. But there is a long road to walk. Real-time 3D interaction at scale, created by the users “as we go” is something that still belongs to the future.
6G could mean device-to-device connection, no base station involved, with very low latency meaning near real-time communication. However, this is already happening with 5G NR+. I think this kind of device-to-device connectivity will be a parallel technology to cellular networks in 6G. So you can use a device to device state in parallel to being connected to the cell tower. This is for sure opening up for the real-time transfer of video and AR/VR content. Well, with that kind of almost zero latency, most things could be connected.
What are the obstacles?
There are quite a few obstacles to overcome in making the metaverse a “real” experience. It pans out to quite a few:
- Low latency and consistent latency are fundamental for users.
- Bandwidth has to be great and consistent.
- Some of the 3D renderings have to happen at the edges of the network to offload traffic and cut latency.
- Haptics and feeling the presence are important. Zuckerberg said when he was introducing Facebook’s metaverse that one should be able to see others’ facial expressions and body language. And use all the subtle ways we communicate. Of course, this is a daunting task.
- Sensors. When we talk about the IoT sensors of today’s network we understand most of them are communicating with high latency, so therefore to enable Metaverse, a new take on the sensors is needed, and my feeling is the need to be connected using low latency communication.
Ok, we understand one thing. Today’s technology just can’t handle the network needs. It can not handle the computing power, and the structure of the network, well it is not built for metaverse at scale.
Is metaverse and 6G the same thing?
So will 6G be the same as metaverse? No, I don’t think so. Will 5G be then? Same answer. I think that we will use the 5G networks, especially the private 5G networks to enable Metaverse. It will be more integrated into 6G. 6G will be human-centric, but it will not be the same as the metaverse.