6G – Digital twins for everything and everyone

Europe is still waiting for widespread availability of 5G, as the next mobile communication generation is already being prepared. It is to be capable of all the things that the current generation had promised.

3G (UMTS) will be switched off this year, the expansion of 5G is proceeding at full speed, and around the world researchers and companies are starting to prepare the next mobile communication standard 6G. This appears to achieve the things that were promised by 5G, according to an interview by Ivan Ndip from the Fraunhofer Institut IZM.

That’s because, with its data rates and latencies, 5G doesn’t really fulfill all of the requirements for the likes of autonomous driving or remote surgery operations. A faster mobile communication standard is needed. And so the struggle for 6G dominance begins. After all, according to the experts from Frost & Sullivan, whoever has the edge in development and patenting could become the winner of the next industrial revolution. And lots needs to be developed.

6G – an improved 5G?

6G is to once again significantly increase the performance of mobile communications when it comes to peak throughput, users’ data rates, reliability, latency, as well as energy efficiency and precision of localization – all with a much higher concentration of connections (devices per square kilometer). Here, 5G can “only” support up to one million networked IoT devices in an area of one square kilometer.

6G also pulls ahead significantly in terms of data rates and latency. The use of terahertz frequencies from 100 GHz allows for data rates up to a terabit per second and latencies of around 100 microseconds – fifty times the data rates of 5G and a tenth of the latency. Because of this, the future 6G standard will be the first to enable applications such as virtual reality, digital twins, teleoperation and autonomous driving. The same applies to medical sensors – implanted or in clothing – for continuously monitoring vital signs and networked via a terahertz body area network.

A “disruptive” alliance also promises to combine the enormous bandwidth advantage of a terahertz band with artificial intelligence. By using digital twins, reality can be monitored, simulated and analyzed in a virtual world, fully and without restrictions. That goes not only for industry 4.0 environments, the automotive industry and in medicine – the effects will also be felt in our entire social and economic lives.


USA vs. China

The clear global market leader in terms of 5G is China, with Huawei dominating the international 5G business. According to a recently published PwC analysis however, the USA will be the top 5G winner, with predicted economic effects of $484 billion by 2030, followed by China ($220 billion), Japan ($76 billion) and Germany ($65 billion). The USA and Australia are to profit the most from 5G applications in the area of financial services, India in smart supply, and China and Germany in the manufacturing sector.

The Middle Kingdom also doesn’t want to lose ground in terms of 6G in future. For that reason, China sent satellites into space to test 6G transmissions in November 2020. And Huawei has been operating a 6G research center in Canada for some time.

In the neighboring South Korea, Samsung presented its 6G visions in a whitepaper last year. As part of this, there is an important role to be played by digital twins for everything and everyone. This “cross reality” (XR), the seamless crossover between “real” and “virtual,” will be supported by holograms and augmented reality.

In October Washington started the “Next G Alliance” to secure the USA a position of dominance in 6G. The members of the alliance include big names such as Apple, AT&T, Qualcomm and Google.

Europe – 6G without China?

At the start of 2021 Europe also started its first official 6G development project in the form of Hexa-X. Lead by Nokia, the group includes: Ericsson, Intel, Siemens, network operators Orange S.A. (France) and Telefonica S.A. (Spain) and the University of Oulu, Finland.

In Germany, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has been developing radio channel models and link-level simulators for frequencies between 100 and 300 GHz in the flagship project “6G SENTINEL” since the start of the year. This work is to result in a prototype for a highly integrated terahertz transmission module. The second pillar of the project comprises software solutions for flexibly configuring the networks. The goal is to demonstrate an adaptable architecture for heterogeneous 6G networks in which satellites and flying platforms in particular have an important role to play alongside THz technologies.

Under the leadership of Fraunhofer IZM, 6GKom – the first 6G project supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research – has already been researching terahertz modules since October 1, 2019.

The 6G project is still in its early stages and the requirements of the different stakeholders are still being collected for the new standard. Who will ultimately make the leap into the final specification remains to be seen. Following that the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) will first need to work on a norm, after which the industry will be able to develop and start introducing a basic version of 6G by the end of the century.

Knowledge base

Samsung: The Next Hyper-Connected Experience for All

First 6G whitepaper from the flagship conference at the Finnish Oulu University in March 2019
Key Drivers and Research Challenges for 6G Ubiquitous Wireless Intelligence”

PwC: The global economic impact of 5G

University of Oulu, Finland: 6G White Paper on localization and sensing