6G: vision or reality?

Why the future of wireless communications has already begun

STORY25-Feb-2022

"5G is here, but 6G is already knocking on the door," says Alexander Pabst, Vice President Market Segment Wireless Communications at Rohde & Schwarz, with conviction. Yes, the 5G rollout is now in full swing worldwide. And yes, Rohde & Schwarz, as a leading supplier of test and measurement equipment, is a key technology partner in the entire wireless communications ecosystem. But the company is also actively involved in making the sixth generation of wireless communications a reality. Here's a taste of what's to come.

Some of us can still remember their first text message. That was in the 1990s, when mobile phones still had physical buttons and were nothing like today's smartphones. Fast forward three decades and everything looks different. We use streaming services more or less on the go, track deliveries in real time, and make video calls to say Happy Birthday to friends on other continents.

My avatar and me

From the perspective of our current reality, 6G use cases may look like fantasies to many people. Virtual reality and augmented reality, for example, will be turned into extended reality, creating an experience space that blurs the lines between the real and virtual worlds.

Digital avatars of real people will stroll through virtual shopping malls. And what about getting together for a transcontinental birthday party in a virtual room instead of a video call? The metaverse, a sort of global virtual reality, first appeared in a sci-fi novel in 1991. Now the term is being bandied about as the next big trend in digitalization – and not just in Silicon Valley. If their 6G scenarios become reality, we can expect a wonderland of communications in the 2030s.

Alexander Pabst

"5G is here, but 6G is already knocking on the door."

Alexander Pabst, Vice President Market Segment Wireless Communications at Rohde & Schwarz

See more, hear more, feel more

Standardized performance characteristics are still lacking, but superlatives are a common theme in technological discussions. Current technical articles are full of terms such as further enhanced ultra mobile broadband (feUMBB), ultra low latency reliability & security (uLLRS), and ultra high sensing low latency communications (uHSLLC).

A common element of all these terms is data transmission at very high rates with little or no latency and increasing sensitivity to the environment. This mainly involves combining known application profiles, usually in ever higher frequency ranges to suit the requirements of visionary use cases.

Combining sensor technology with wireless communications, for example, is seen as a valuable extension to all existing standards. This is an essential step for fully merging the virtual and real worlds. Rohde & Schwarz is at the forefront of both technologies.

"Many people ask why we are researching 6G now. This is a justified question, because most of the scenarios still look more like fortune telling than realistic forecasts. But at Rohde & Schwarz we have an answer to this question: innovation is part of our DNA. The joy of developing new solutions has always been, and will continue to be, one of the keys to our success."
Alexander Pabst, Vice President Market Segment Wireless Communications at Rohde & Schwarz

Wireless communications made in Germany

After the first analog generation (1G), sending a text message in the 1990s felt like a quantum leap. The first generation of digital wireless communications (2G) enabled additional functions such as roaming, mobile data traffic and digital voice transmission. The European Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standard developed into a major export product, just like the GSM simulator from Rohde & Schwarz.

A Rohde & Schwarz GSM simulator is now on display in the German Museum in Munich as a pioneer of wireless communications.

Making it human

The internet grew, and with it the desire to access the internet from wireless devices. The subsequent generations 3G and 4G (the latter also known as LTE, short for Long Term Evolution), therefore focused on data applications. Both are now the most widely used standards worldwide in the wireless communications ecosystem. The use cases were primarily tailored to human-to-human communications. The aim was to optimize the transmission speed of data to wireless devices, so that applications could be fast and easy to use.

The LTE standard still meets the needs of most wireless communications users. With download speeds up to several hundred megabits per second, it allows your favorite series to be streamed in high resolution to your wireless device. Buffering, which means temporarily storing data, is almost imperceptible to users, and jerky streaming is already a thing of the past.

The latest wireless communications standard 5G dramatically boosts the speed, but this doesn't make a noticeable difference for personal use. The impetus for further development is coming from a different direction.

Human-machine interaction

Industry 4.0 is the keyword for the fifth generation of wireless communications. The industrial internet of things (IIoT) will play a leading role in the factories of the future. Robots on the production line and autonomous logistics systems will work hand in hand with factory employees.

These 5G use cases make much higher demands on coverage, latency and reliability, so their implementation can pose challenges for network planners and operators. With its own 5G campus network in one of its production sites, Rohde & Schwarz has been intensively acquiring experience in real Industry 4.0 scenarios since 2020 – for itself and for its customers.

Smart cities, villages and countrysides: Millions of connected devices that enable a smarter and safer world rely on affordable connectivity designed for decades of operation.

Many aspects of everyday life will be more convenient.

Connectivity and security provide the foundation for transforming urban spaces into smart cities.

When things become smart

Many of our familiar everyday objects will become smarter. In a smart home, nobody has to flip a light switch. In the smart city of the future, connected vehicles will communicate with a smart infrastructure. Visions from last few decades will become a lot closer to reality with the widespread rollout of 5G.

However, the wealth of different applications places even higher demands on the sensor technology of individual systems and the communications of all systems. For this reason, connectivity is not only one of the technologies mastered by Rohde & Schwarz. Figuratively speaking, as a player on the global stage the group is actively connected in the entire wireless communications ecosystem.

"At Rohde & Schwarz we see ourselves as a technology partner for the entire wireless communications ecosystem. Together with chipset suppliers, device and infrastructure OEMs, test houses and network operators, we have enabled connectivity for generations up to 5G. We will continue to do so with 5G and beyond."
Alexander Pabst, Vice President Market Segment Wireless Communications at Rohde & Schwarz

Innovation cycles

A certain cyclic regularity in the development of wireless communications has become established since the first digital generation (2G). New generations appear roughly every 10 years. If this trend continues, we can expect the worldwide rollout of 6G networks to begin in 2030. From a business perspective, research on the sixth generation is an investment in the future.

 Rohde & Schwarz is committed to innovation

The urge to research new things is also deeply rooted at Rohde & Schwarz. Innovation is part of the DNA of the technology group. The two founders, Dr. Lothar Rohde and Dr. Hermann Schwarz were the first to explore the uncharted territory of RF engineering with an entrepreneurial spirit. Now in the third generation of the family, the path they took has proven to be the key to success. Rohde & Schwarz test and measurement equipment has set the standard since the early days of the digital wireless communications era.

Higher, faster, further

Together with the Fraunhofer Institutes HHI and IAF, Rohde & Schwarz has been carrying out research in the sub-terahertz frequency range between 100 GHz and 320 GHz since 2019. 5G is the first generation that operates in the millimeterwave range above 20 GHz. However, for virtual shopping malls or parties among avatars, much higher data rates will be needed than with 5G. These can only be realized at very high frequencies. 6G will therefore enter new technological dimensions, and not just in terms of transmission.

All inclusive

6G will be more than just another wireless network. The challenge here is to further develop and integrate wireless communications, sensor technology and processing power seamlessly. New eHealth approaches will enable electronic health care services worldwide, even in remote or inaccessible areas. Local trust zones will create secure spaces for the IoT micronets of smart cities. Simple IoT devices will automatically connect to each other to form local mesh networks, without needing densification of existing networks. This will be supported by edge, fog and cloud computing technologies.

Technical Story

It’s all a network

Technical Story with even more background on 6G