Luigi Gambardella (president of ChinaEU): Just a minute, 5G is so passé

Never too early for China and Europe to cooperate on tapping the potential of 6G technology.

In Chinese philosophy, the virtue of long-term thinking is essential to strategists. We are expecting pre-commercialization of 5G this year, and while it still needs plenty of time for a mature commercialized 5G network to be established, we should look even further ahead to 6G: actually, it may be the right time for Europe and China to start planning their cooperation on the next milestone in the decade to come.

While 5G is set to have a revolutionary influence on society and industries, 6G will bring more dramatic changes with super high speeds and ultralow latency. Theoretically, the downloads over 6G could reach the astonishing speed of 1 Tbit per second, one thousand times faster than 5G’s capability of 1 Gbit per second.

In the 6G era, in less than a second, a new movie could be transmitted from the internet to people’s computers or smartphones. But 6G will go way beyond entertainment. For many researchers, 6G is capable of addressing some of the shortfalls of 5G and enabling streamlined connections with super performance in speeds and latency — for instance, the internet of things and augmented reality.

It is no surprise that countries are already eyeing 6G. In September 2018, Jessica Rosenworcel, member of the Federal Communications Commission of the United States, talked up 6G in her speech at the Mobile World Congress Americas in Los Angeles, noting 6G was rated by Google Trends as the 17th most looked up word in its search engine. Rosenworcel envisioned 6G as featuring “terahertz-frequency networks and spatial multiplexing” with multiple simultaneous beams of data transfer, all requiring unprecedented level of network densification, as in miniaturized base stations embedded ubiquitously. Charter Communications Inc, the second-biggest cable and broadband provider in the US, said it will start to test the 6G service.

Beijing started preliminary work on 6G research at the end of 2017. Su Xin, leader of a 5G wireless technology working group at China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, confirmed in his interview with Securities Times in November 2018 that China has initiated 6G concept research and that research and development work is due to start in 2020, with an expected commercial release date of 2030.

In Europe, announcements of 6G moves mainly come from Finland, a 5G pioneer and home to one of the world’s leading suppliers of telecoms equipment, Nokia. The Academy of Finland, funded by the Finnish government, has launched 6 Genesis, an eight-year program with some 250 million euros (US$280 million) in funding, tasked with researching the wireless communications technologies that will eventually comprise 6G networks. On March 26, the first 6G wireless summit, organized by Finland’s University of Oulu, which is in charge of Finland’s 6G research, is scheduled to take place.

Looking back at 5G, the research on the new technology roughly began at 2010, when 4G became commercialized. It usually takes some 10 years from conceptual research to commercialization, so in this context it is natural that 6G research is already underway.

The point is that Europe and China should join hands to work on 6G, sooner rather than later.

First, the cooperation is of strategic importance for both. 6G will greatly improve applications under 5G; with larger bandwidth, much lower latency and wider connections, it may revolutionize the entire structure of wired and wireless networks. New 6G technical solutions could include satellite communication technology, which means a large number of places that are not covered by communication signals — for instance, the oceans where base stations cannot be built, will have possibility of transmitting and receiving signals in the future. Joint international cooperation will catalyze better performance exploring this uncharted territory.

Second, such cooperation will help Europe cope with the risks of lagging behind. The latest Ericsson 2018 Mobility Report has cautioned that Europe could fall behind in 5G deployment by 2024. A forward-looking approach linking Europe and China on 6G could be one of the future solutions — considering that China is a front-runner in information and communications technology. On the other hand, Europe’s strength in innovation and its talents will make it a strong partner to China, while its openness is particularly dear to Chinese academics and industries which are faced with growing suspicions and increasing barriers from the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Academic cooperation can provide important advantages and cost reductions for Europe and China.

Last but not least, it would be a natural extension of their 5G cooperation. Brussels and Beijing signed a key partnership agreement on 5G in 2015 with both sides committing to reciprocity and openness in terms of access to 5G networks research funding, market access, as well as in membership of Chinese and EU 5G associations. Notably, they expressed the hope that their cooperation would bring breakthroughs in the internet of things, of which the market value in the European Union is expected to exceed 1 trillion euros. Europe and China should speed up their cooperation and start to look into 6G as soon as possible given that 5G may fall short of the requirements for the internet of things.

The author is president of ChinaEU. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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