China leapfrogs the world with 6G

  • “The world’s first 6G satellite” marks another monumental effort by China to stay ahead of the pack in the race to 6G connectivity even when 5G is yet to be rolled out on a wider scale.
  • Japan, South Korea, and Finland have also started R&D and investment in this segment.

While most countries are still rolling out 5G at a snail’s pace, China, on November 6, successfully launched a Long March 6 rocket and sent a payload of 13 satellites into orbit. Among them was what has been described as “the world’s first 6G satellite”.

To be fair, China has been at the forefront of 5G networking, with the country already adopting the newer and faster bandwidth into its infrastructure. Now, the economic powerhouse is moving forward with 6G networking, while other nations, including the US, are still struggling to roll out 5G networking.

In fact, 5G—what is considered the fifth, and the most recent generation of cellular broadband networks—is still in its infancy. Legitimate 5G networks operate in millimeter-wave frequencies between 30 and 300 Gigahertz, which are 10 to 100 times higher frequency than the previous 4G cellular network. Some cell phone providers claim the upper end of the 4G spectrum as 5G, which is untrue.

The rest of the world is barely grasping the truest essence of 5G, let alone agreeing on what 6G will even be. According to the 2020 global edition of the GSMA’s flagship ‘Mobile Economy’ report series, 46 operators in 24 markets had launched commercially available 5G networks by Jan 30, 2020. One in five mobile connections is forecast to be running on 5G networks by 2025.

In short, 5G has arrived, 6G is being spoken about openly – but 4G is still king.

First, what is 6G?

To put the high speeds into perspective, 6G is capable of downloading a high-definition movie in just 8 seconds and 1,500 high-resolution images in under a minute. A surgeon from New York can use robotics to operate on a patient in California or even be used to save a life on the battlefield through another robot.

According to an NYPost report, the satellite Star Era-12 has a frequency band so high that it had to be tested in space to avoid signal disruption due to the atmosphere, as explained by the National Science Foundation’s Thyagarajan Nandagopal. 

However, exactly how fast the bands are isn’t known, but Nandagopal estimates a range of 100 and 500 Gigahertz, or GHz — 100 times faster than 5G. To understand that speed, compare 5G and 4G cellphones, a 5G model is 100 times faster than a 4G, depending on the carrier.

Then again, it is unknown just how fast the 6G bands actually are, but it is estimated to be within the range of 100 to 500Ghz, which is about 100 times faster than 5G. This scale is similar to the 100 times faster jump moving from 4G to 5G.

Recently, Google and Apple both joining a new 6G industry group, a North American trade group known as “the Next G Alliance.” That is perhaps a sign that we can likely expect 6G iPhones and Pixels to be known in the coming years.

Some industry critics believe “it’s a bit of nonsense to call what China have just launched 6G“. Perhaps because Chinese engineers claim that the satellite, jointly developed by Chengdu Guoxing Aerospace Technology, the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, and Beijing Weina Xingkong Technology, could boost data speeds dramatically.

China has been a leader in 5G technology and the race for 5G is largely responsible for the heightened US-China trade dispute, including sanctions imposed on Huawei, the leading 5G gear manufacturer. If the US had aimed to slow down the pace of China’s technological advancement, it has failed miserably, to say the least for China, just like Japan and a few other countries are already working on 6G.

Japan has begun planning a comprehensive strategy for “post-5G” (6G) technology that achieves communication speeds  10 times faster than 5G by 2030. Even the South Korean government is planning on launching the pilot project for 6G networking in 2026. 

Samsung Electronics, a South Korean tech giant, in a white paper titled “The Next Hyper-Connected Experience for All”, said it is expecting that the next generation of networking will arrive as early as 2028.

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