What is 6G?
6G is the name for the sixth generation of cellular networks, which will deliver truly omnipresent wireless intelligence. Expected to become available early in the 2030s, the 6G research journey is already well underway.
The vision for 6G is built on the desire to create a seamless reality where the digital and physical worlds as we know them today have merged. This merged reality of the future will provide new ways of meeting and interacting with other people, new possibilities to work from anywhere and new ways to experience faraway places and cultures.
By delivering ever-present intelligent communication, 6G will contribute to the creation of a more human-friendly, sustainable and efficient society.
Introducing the cyber-physical continuum
6G will make it possible to move freely in the cyber-physical continuum, between the connected physical world of senses, actions and experiences, and its programmable digital representation.
The cyber-physical continuum of 6G includes the metaverse as it is typically understood – a digital environment where avatars interact in a VR/AR world – and goes further, providing a much closer link to reality. In the cyber-physical continuum, it will be possible to project digital objects onto physical objects that are represented digitally, allowing them to seamlessly coexist as merged reality and thereby enhance the real world.
Future networks will be a fundamental component for the functioning of virtually all parts of life, society, and industries, fulfilling the communication needs of humans as well as intelligent machines. As accelerating automatization and digitalization continue to simplify people’s lives, the emerging cyber-physical continuum will continuously improve efficiency and ensure the sustainable use of resources.
Countless sensors will be embedded in the physical world to send data to update the digital representation in real time. Meanwhile, functions programmed in the digital representation will be carried out by actuators in the physical world. The purpose of the 6G network platform is to provide intelligence, ever-present connectivity and full synchronization to this emerging reality.
Read the white paper: 6G - connecting a cyber-physical world
What will the world be like with 6G?
We envision a connected and sustainable physical world that is both digitalized and programmable, where humans are supported by intelligent machines and the Internet of Senses.
Examples of important 6G use cases include e-health for all, precision health care, smart agriculture, earth monitor, digital twins, cobots and robot navigation. These use cases can be sorted into three broad use case scenarios: the Internet of Senses, connected intelligent machines, and a connected sustainable world.
In the Internet of Senses scenario, the immersive communication of 6G will deliver the full telepresence experience, removing distance as a barrier to interaction. Extended reality (XR) technology with human-grade sensory feedback requires high data rates and capacity, spatial mapping with precise positioning and sensing, and low latency end-to-end with edge cloud processing. One example will be the ubiquitous use of mixed reality in public transport, offering separate virtual experiences for each passenger, enabling them to run virtual errands, get XR guidance and have games overlaid on the physical world.
Personal immersive devices capable of precise body interaction will allow access to experiences and actions far away to better support human communication needs. At the same time, 6G networks will also add completely new communication modes with strict control over access and identities.
Connecting the digital and physical worlds will require countless sensors that send data to update the digital representation in real time. Actuators in the real world will carry out functions that are programmed in the digital representation. The 6G network platform will provide intelligence, ever-present connectivity and full synchronization in a cyber-physical continuum. The result? Full support for connected intelligent machines, the Internet of Senses, and a connected sustainable world.
Frequently asked questions
We expect that 6G will be built on the foundations of 5G and 5G Advanced, and is likely to take us much deeper into connected intelligent machines, programmable physical worlds, an Internet of Senses and a more connected sustainable world.
6G is also likely to feature entirely new capability dimensions including extreme performance and coverage, integrated- and cognitive computing functions within the network, and even functionality beyond communication such as spatial and timing data, as well as joint communication and sensing.
Such capabilities will be used to support new use cases including immersive smart cities, fully merged cyber-physical worlds blending the real and the digital world, interactive 4D maps using the network for a dynamically updated map of objects around vehicle, and earth monitoring tracking the state of the earth by sensing and sensor data collection to enable preventive action.
6G networks are expected to be capable of delivering much faster speeds than today’s high-speed 5G networks. This includes the capability to provide several hundred gigabits per second (Gbps) and end-to-end sub-millisecond (ms) latency in specific scenarios and under certain conditions. 5G – a generation that is capable of delivering speeds one hundred times faster than 4G networks – has demonstrated peak downlink speeds as high as 4 Gbps and latency as low as 1ms.
New spectrum bands in the sub-terahertz (sub-THz) and centimeter wave (cmWave) range, in addition to the reuse of today’s 5G mid-bands, will be key to unleashing 6G’s extreme speeds. At MWC 2023, Ericsson achieved peak throughput of >100 Gbps on sub-THz frequencies using a 6G RAN prototype system with cabled radios.
However, 6G will not only be about speed. Other expected advances include global coverage, improved adaptability and programmability, simplified architecture design, improved energy performance and an ability to support trillions of devices.
6G is still in a phase of applied research and technology trials, and is not expected to be commercialized until around 2030.
Before that happens, 3GPP members will agree on the technical specifications of the first ever 6G standard. This work is expected to begin around 2024, with the first specifications expected in 2028.
Basic and applied 6G research has been ongoing for several years. Today, several major 6G research initiatives are taking significant steps in laying the groundwork for 6G, including Hexa-X and the 6G-IA in Europe, the Next G Alliance in North America, IMT-2030 in China, and the global NGMN Alliance.
Early 6G research themes include embedded devices everywhere, enhanced end-to-end connectivity, cognitive networks, network compute fabric, trustworthy systems, and extreme performance and coverage enabled through new centimeter wave- and sub-terahertz bands.
Ericsson’s in-house 6G research has come far with lab prototypes exploring key 6G technologies. At MWC 2023, for example, Ericsson achieved peak throughput of >100 Gbps on sub-THz frequencies using a 6G RAN prototype system with cabled radios.
Commercial 6G networks are not expected until around 2030, following technical specification of the first 3GPP 6G standard expected in 2028.
The first commercial 6G services are expected around the year 2030, with pre-commercial trials expected from 2028 and early proof of concepts expected even earlier.
In the meantime, 5G capabilities will continue to evolve into an era of 5G Advanced networks. This is expected to be a key stepping-stone for future 6G networks.
6G roadmap: Growing from 5G to 6G
It is too early yet to define a detailed roadmap for 6G. Research into new technology areas is ongoing in parallel with the evolution of 5G. Learnings from live 5G networks and interactions with the user ecosystems will continuously feed into the research, standardization and development of 6G.
6G will build on the strengths of 5G, but it will also provide entirely new technology solutions. Around 2030 is a reasonable time frame to expect the very first 6G networks to appear.
By that time, society will have been shaped by 5G for 10 years, with lessons having been learned from 5G deployment, and new needs and services appearing. Even with the built-in flexibility of 5G, we will see a need for expanding into new capabilities. This calls for further evolution – following the pull from society’s needs and the push from more advanced technological tools becoming available – that must be addressed for the 6G era when it comes.
5G New Radio (NR) and 5G Core (5GC) evolution is continuing in 3GPP toward 5G Advanced, to ensure the success of 5G systems globally and to expand the usage of 3GPP technology by supporting different use cases and verticals. AI/ML will play an important role in 5G Advanced systems, in addition to other technology components, to provide support for extended reality (XR), reduced capability (RedCap) devices, and network energy efficiency.
While Ericsson 5G networks already support AI/ML and XR use cases and requirements in an energy-efficient manner, it is essential to enhance the 5G standards to improve multi-vendor support and provide better device and network cooperation. The 5G Advanced standardization is an important step in the evolution of cellular wireless access toward 6G.
The improved capabilities of 5G Advanced include enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), ultra-reliable low latency communication (URLLC), and massive Machine Type Communication (mMTC), all of which serve as important stepping stones leading toward the future 6G system.
6G network capabilities
To serve as the platform for a vast range of new and evolving services, the capabilities of wireless access networks need to be enhanced and extended in various dimensions. This includes classic capabilities, such as achievable data rates, latency, and system capacity, but also new capabilities, some of which may be more qualitative in nature.
Higher achievable data rates and lower latency
6G networks will need to enable higher achievable data rates and lower latency in all relevant scenarios. This includes the possibility to provide several hundred gigabits per second and end-to-end sub-millisecond latency in specific scenarios. Equally or perhaps even more important is the possibility to provide high-speed connectivity with predictably low latency and a low jitter rate.
Find out why sub-terahertz communication could be a key complement to 6G, unleashing extreme speeds for specific, high demanding scenarios.
Spectrum and dense networks
6G networks should be able to serve an exponentially growing traffic demand in a cost-efficient way. Higher spectral efficiency of basic radio access technology is one component of this, with access to additional spectrum naturally being another. Even more important, though, is enabling the possibility for the truly cost-efficient deployment of very dense networks.
Read more in this blogpost: Realizing the 6G vision - Why is spectrum fundamental?
Access for everyone and everything
There is also a need to continue the expansion of wireless communication toward full global coverage – closing the digital divide for remote areas – while supporting a dramatically higher number of devices that will be embedded throughout society. A critical component of this is to ensure that the overall cost for both users and service providers is at a sustainable level.
Extreme energy performance
High network energy performance was an important requirement in the development of 5G, and it will be even more important for future wireless access solutions. It is critical that the expected massive increase in traffic will not lead to a corresponding increase in energy usage. An acceleration in traffic should not mean accelerated energy usage. Also, the energy usage should be close to zero when there is no traffic within a node.
Resilience, security and trustworthiness
As wireless networks increasingly become critical components of society, resilience and security capabilities are crucial. The networks must be able to provide service when part of the infrastructure is disabled due to natural disasters, local disturbances, or societal breakdowns, and they must offer robust resistance against deliberate malicious attacks.
In terms of trustworthiness, the networks should be able to leverage new confidential computing technologies, improve service availability, and provide enhanced security identities and protocols with end-to-end assurance.
Dependable compute and AI integration
6G networks will need the capabilities of dependable compute and AI integration, infrastructure enabling distributed applications and network functions to be swiftly developed and deployed, and services for data and compute acceleration, which can be delivered throughout the network with performance guarantees.
6G will support of the use of interactive 4D maps of whole cities that are precise in position and time and can be simultaneously accessed and modified by large numbers of humans and intelligent machines for detailed planning of activities. Such cyber-physical service platforms can issue commands to large-scale steerable systems, like public transport, waste handling, or water and heating management systems, achieving higher levels of resource efficiency, better control and increased resilience.
Sensing will be used for tasks such as modeling an environment, detecting road traffic and setting off an alarm when a person enters a restricted area in a factory hall. 6G networks will need to use radio resources efficiently for both communication and sensing. Scalable mechanisms for distributing the results, AI-based interpretation of results, and security mechanisms to ensure the privacy of the information are also needed.
Foundations of 6G: Bridging the cyber-physical divide
The core elements of 6G will form one seamless system with all the capabilities necessary to empower the vision of ever-present intelligent communication connecting a cyber-physical world. With a foundation of trustworthy systems and a highly efficient compute fabric with built-in cognition capacities, the networks of the future will deliver limitless connectivity for upcoming applications and services. This will make 6G a broad platform for innovation and the information backbone of society, leading to the creation of a fully digitalized and programmable physical world.
Examples of the types of technology that will be needed to deliver 6G use cases include zero-energy sensors and actuators; next-generation AR glasses, contact lenses and haptics; and advanced edge computing and spatial mapping technologies. From our perspective at Ericsson, we have determined that creating the 6G networks of 2030 will require major technological advancements in four key areas: limitless connectivity, trustworthy systems, cognitive networks and network compute fabric.
The concept of limitless connectivity includes extreme performance and coverage (including joint communication and sensing), enhanced end-to-end connectivity, network adaptability, embedded devices everywhere.
To meet evolving capacity demands and enable envisioned 6G use cases – such as holographic communication, integrated sensing, and omnipresent IoT – will require deeper evolution of the spectrum blueprint. This includes redefining today’s spectrum grid, but also exploring new frequency bands in the crucial centimetric wave (cmWave) range and complementary sub-terahertz (sub-THz) range.
Learn more on our 6G spectrum page.
High-trust cyber-physical systems connecting humans and intelligent machines require extreme reliability and resilience, precise positioning and sensing, and low-latency communication. This places high demands on 6G security capabilities, but also on its ability to provide assurance that the required capabilities are in place. 6G networks must give this assurance to users and operators – in deployment as well as during operation – in the form of security awareness and resilience. On the personal level, 6G security capabilities must respect privacy and personal data ownership in a connected world. It must be powerful and yet easy to adapt to users’ preferences.
Sustainability: A cornerstone of 6G development
Building a sustainable world requires huge efforts throughout society, with networks ensuring digital inclusion on a global scale. This includes diverse elements, such as the support of smart automation services everywhere on the planet, connectivity for global sensors monitoring the statuses of forests and oceans, resource-efficient connected agriculture, access to digital personal healthcare for everyone, and access to high-end services for institutions such as schools and hospitals everywhere.
Through the global, end-to-end life-cycle tracking of goods, autonomous supply chains can accelerate a full circular resource economy. Digital-asset tracking can reduce waste and automatize recycling. Taken together, this requires truly global coverage with excellent energy-, material-, and cost- efficiency, embedded autonomous devices and sensors, and a network platform with high availability and security.
6G research collaboration
Ericsson has a long history of playing an active role in standards development and taking leadership roles in various forums. We are strong believers that the early phase of research should be precompetitive in nature, enabling close collaboration with academia and within the industry, leading to openly available published outcomes. The initial momentum generated by these efforts benefits from the patient support of government funding agencies for academic and private-sector research.
Later, as we move to the pre-standards phase and on to full competition, companies will choose to champion certain basic technologies and further tune and reduce them to practice internally. Some of these technologies will become part of the 6G standard contributions or proprietary product solutions.
Several of the research collaborations we are participating in, including the Hexa-X project, IMT-2030 and the Next G Alliance, are exploring potential technologies to enable the cyber-physical world and limitless connectivity.