Planning for the 6G era has already begun, with the European Commission announcing almost a billion euros in funding for 6G research

With 5G being rolled out around the country, the concept of a race for 5G supremacy is well established. While 5G technology itself is still in its infancy, a hierarchy is developing, with the South Korean market attaining a considerable lead on the global 5G stage. 

But with political concerns playing an increasingly prominent role in the development of the global telecoms ecosystem, attaining ‘digital sovereignty’ is becoming increasingly important. This is perhaps especially true for Europe, which sees itself caught in a technological tug-of-war between China and the US. 

To this end, the European Commission is announced that it is earmarking around €900 million for research into 6G technology. The ‘Smart Networks and Services’ project will coordinate 6G research under the Horizon Europe research and development subsidies, as well as supplementing existing work on 5G. These 5G projects include cross-border work to ensure interoperability between all 27 EU member states.

The industry is expected to at least match this public funding, leading to a total investment of at least €1.8 billion. Indeed, various European telcos have already expressed considerable interest in furthering their 6G research capabilities; in December last year, the Hexa-X 6G research group was set up with EU funding, featuring major players Ericsson, Orange, Telefonica, Intel, Siemans and Nokia.

But it is not only Europe who is working to build an early lead in the 6G. 

In 2019, for example, the Japanese government pledged around $2 billion to support private company research on 6G technology. Later, at the start of 2020, the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications announced plans to create a joint government–civilian research society on the future technology, with key players like NTT and Toshiba being invited to share their views later in the year.

Meanwhile, in China, ZTE and China Unicom are working together to explore the new technology. Speaking at last year’s 6G Wireless Summit event, Dr Fang Min, ZTE’s director of 6G research and collaboration, said that the new technology cannot be an afterthought, and would unlock a “new horizon” of communication, making full use of “the terahertz, the light, the molecular, the brain cloud, and the qubit.” 

The development of 6G is, of course, still in the very early stages, with standards not expected to be developed until 2025. What exactly the new technology might entail is still being determined. Where many have spoken about 5G being all about seamless, real-time communication between machines, 6G is being heralded as allowing an integration of the human brain with computers, with NTT suggesting 6G will make it "possible for cyberspace to support human thought and action in real time through wearable devices and micro-devices mounted on the human body". For now, all that is certainly clear is that it will be orders of magnitude faster than 5G.

Rollout of the technology is not expected to begin until 2030. Nonetheless, the time to begin planning is now. 5G is beginning to show the true value of early adoption and 6G will be no different. The new technology is an opportunity for Europe to redefine its technological position on the world stage and, with dreams as big as that, you can never start research too early.


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