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  • Thierry Spanjaard

Who will standardize 6G?

Over the past generations of mobile communication standardization, we have experienced the involvement in standards goes hand in hand with business growth. While 5G is being rolled out, many are already working on 6G, typically in definition and standardization phases. Who will standardize 6G will undoubtedly rule the world!

If we look back to past generations of mobile communications, the role of the first mover in standardization is paramount:

  • First mobile phones were not standardized, delivered by Motorola, Bell, AT&T, Nokia and Racal,

  • The GSM and its equivalents of the time, later called 2G, was standardized by ETSI (European Telecoms Standards Institute), leading to a preeminence of European players: Nokia, Ericsson, Philips, Siemens, Alcatel, Sagem, …

  • The 3G that included data access, leading to the inception of the smartphone, was standardized by the ETSI and the ANSI (American National Standards Institute), which fostered the growth of European and American players: Nokia, Ericsson, Siemens, Motorola, Apple, …

  • The 4G, which generalized IP, the Internet Protocol, under US and Japan-led standardization bodies, has seen the rise of players such as Qualcomm, Cisco, Broadcom, NTT Docomo, Samsung, but also Huawei, and ZTE.

  • We experience now the massive deployment of 5G and witness effect of the heavy involvement of Chinese organizations in international standards: Huawei and ZTE are in a dominant position, ahead of Europeans Ericsson and Nokia and Americans Qualcomm, Cisco, and others…

The outline for 6G definition includes 100-times the data throughput of 5G and sub-millisecond latency. Even if the sixth generation of mobile communications is far from being fully defined, we already see initiatives popping up from all world regions.

The European Commission has launched its "Hexa-X” project to investigate the next generation of wireless networks and develop fundamental 6G technologies. The project is to be led by Nokia and funded by EU R&D funds. The consortium reflects the European Commission objective to reaffirm the EU economic strategy: it includes Ericsson, Intel, Orange and Telefonica, along with network vendors, communication service providers, telecom technology providers, as well as European communications research institutes. Hexa-X project will start early 2021, and aim at creating a network of networks, combine humans and machines, include AI, bring universal connectivity in an efficient, affordable and sustainable manner, while ensuring confidentiality, integrity, data privacy, and security. In related news, Europe-based Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) has launched a project focusing on the Vision and Drivers for 6G, that aims at providing early and timely direction for global 6G activities.

China has already launched its first 6G experimental satellite to test communications from space using high-frequency terahertz spectrum. The 6G test satellite aims to verify the performance of data transmission using terahertz spectrum and will test a number of smart city, environmental protection and disaster prevention applications, such as crop and forest fire monitoring, China Global Television Network reported.

The US telecom industry is also up in arms! ATIS, the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions, a Washington DC-based organization launches its “Next G Alliance” that explicitly aims at “building the foundation for North American leadership in 6G and beyond.” Next G Alliance members include many North American blue chip companies such as Apple, AT&T, Bell, Cisco, Dell, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm and Verizon, among others. Interestingly Samsung, Nokia, Ericsson or LG are also present. Although it does not plan to engage in standardization, Next G Alliance will set up its workgroups beginning of 2021.

AT&T anticipates 6G to combine all ongoing trends: more AI, edge infrastructure and further reductions in latency, to cover “hundreds of thousands of millions” of access points “basically everywhere,” said AT&T executive Mazin Gilbert, quoted in Mobile World Live.

Samsung, as a leader of Korean industry, is also laying the bases for 6G communication. The company has published a white paper outlining its vision for 6G technology. Samsung anticipates the completion of the 6G standard and its earliest commercialization date could be as early as 2028, while its likely to roll out to the masses around 2030. Samsung vision of 6G focuses on providing services to both humans and machines and delivering immersive extended reality (XR) while setting performance requirements at a peak data rate of 1,000 Gbps (gigabits per second) and air latency less than 100 microseconds (μs), 50 times the peak data rate and one-tenth the latency of 5G.

In Japan, NTT Docomo started early moves to develop 6G technology earlier this year with a goal of a commercial launch by 2030.

So, who will rule the world in 2030?

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