Launched two years ago in France, the 5G network still appears to be in its infancy in light of figures released by Arcep, the French telecommunications regulatory authority. According to its latest report published in the summer of 2022, only 4.1 million French people subscribe to a 5G formula, while there are 66.9 million 4G customers in the country. A proportion that is still small, although growing rapidly -Arcep mentions 1.2 million additional 5G subscribers every quarter-, which makes the arrival of 5G still a distant prospect.
Operators are also quite vague about the percentage of the population that currently has access to 5G networks, with most referring to the number of municipalities covered. SFR thus leads 6,200, Bouygues Telecom 12,000 and Orange more than 1,000. The strategies of some point to the densest areas”where connectivity needs are strongest and where the 4G network is likely to become saturated in the short term”, as Orange points out, while the others opt for the greatest possible coverage. Only Free Mobile currently publishes dedicated figures – the operator is proud to be “the largest 5G network in France by number of sites” and cover 84% of the French population in 2022.
The network is not available everywhere and only concerns, in fact, a part of smartphone users. And yet. The case of 5G, inaugurated in France at the end of 2020, is instructive: it took more than five years of work, initially carried out mainly in China and Japan, for the advances made by equipment manufacturers and telecommunications operators to materialize. with users. And although between eight and ten years separate each new generation of mobile network according to the country, we understand that it is time to look at the next one: 6G.
Specifications to be defined
All stakeholders – chip designers, network equipment manufacturers, smartphone manufacturers – are moving forward on the same schedule. Although the date has not been officially set, everyone agrees to mention the year 2024 for the start of work to define a standard dedicated to 6G, that is, a real specification. . The process will have the support of the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project), that is, the international consortium dedicated to the creation of protocols related to telecommunications. Therefore, there will be at least six years of technical development to achieve a commercial version of the network.
Europe is now particularly engaged in this field, in particular through the Hexa-X initiative, created at the beginning of 2021 and aimed at promoting the 6G project in the Old Continent. It has just entered its second phase. Spearheaded by the European Commission, which aims to make the EU the “leader in 6G”Nokia is taking the initiative to “expanding the list of Hexa-X partners to 44 organizations that are responsible for creating a pre-standardized platform and system that will form a foundation for future 6G future standardization“; your work will start on January 1, 2023.
Switch to 6G, so soon?
Although 5G adoption still seems limited, why switch to 6G? Both to remedy the shortcomings of the current 5G, costly for equipment manufacturers and high energy consumption, and to respond to new uses. While 5G is designed to reach speeds of up to 10 to 20 Gbps, its successor could exceed 100 Gbps and flirt with Tbps. “6G should achieve higher performance than 5G to enable new services and support expected traffic growth”Orange points out in his White book.
The precise use cases are still unclear. Most gamers mention the spread of virtual, augmented, and extended realities (XR) at levels of quality that are out of all proportion to what we currently know. “Throughput levels for 6G are currently being considered to enable best-experience services such as truly immersive XR, mobile holograms, and high-fidelity digital mirroring, which may require speeds on the order of 1 Tbps at most.”, explains for example Samsung. Oppo completes this picture with the evocation of the autonomous car, supported by new AI using 6G; More generally, uses in the field of robotics, drones and industry are considered, understanding the network as the response to the increase in automated and connected uses.
Focus on terahertz frequencies
It is understood, all players combined, that 6G will not be a reality until the 2030s. But the multiplication of white papers published by various players in the sector (MediaTek, Oppo, Orange and many others) reminds us that the deadline is really very close. Since spring 2022, Samsung has also hosted a dedicated 6G forum online, to reach as wide an audience as possible.
Does this mean that we are currently only in the prospective stage? Not entirely, since the first technical tests are being carried out with network specialists. This was already the case with Samsung last year, and more recently, in September 2022, with LG: everyone is focusing on what they already envision as the successor to millimeter waves at work for 5G, namely 5G Terahertz. (THz). As MediaTek reminds us in its White book dedicated to 6G, “To cope with an ever-increasing demand for a greater number of services and use cases, the system will undoubtedly need to grow beyond frequency bands into other spectrum”.
This spectrum, in fact, is beyond 100 GHz. And if an official specification for 6G has not yet been established, it is subject to regular technical tests. LG, in particular, multiplies attempts of this type and constantly increases its performance: in September, its communications could operate outdoors on frequencies between 155 and 175 GHz, with a range of 320 meters, while in September they were limited to 100 meters. your previous attempts. Therefore, it is already a matter of compensating for the fact that “6G, which uses ultra-wideband (UWB) frequencies, has a relatively short range and can suffer from power losses between transmission and reception”, as the Korean points out. If it is still relevant, the 1 Tb/s target has not yet been reached at this point.
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