“One plus one is more than two at 6G’s higher frequencies,” Trichopoulos said.
It all starts with higher bandwidth. Bandwidth is the maximum amount of data that can be transferred through a specific path. The current 4G wireless bandwidth is a small country road compared to the 12-lane highway capacity of 6G mmWaves. Think of how bogged down today’s wireless networks get when everyone at a stadium or large event is trying to use the internet.
Virtual reality and augmented reality applications currently suffer from a bottleneck due to low bandwidths. With higher bandwidth, VR and AR headsets could be completely wireless.
This higher bandwidth will also allow for a massive number of internet of things-connected devices (smartphones, wearables, smart appliances and more) on a single network — which is fitting since the volume of these devices is almost guaranteed to increase in the next decade. Consider how many new internet-connected devices have made their way into your home even in the last few years.
These devices could also have updated interfaces with the help of 6G’s better sensing capabilities that can “see” the world around us in ways cameras can’t.
Within a few milliseconds, a device using the 6G mmWave spectrum could use sensors to map an office, room or other complex environment. Sensing at that frequency can also detect the vibrational resonance patterns of various materials, thereby identifying objects and people in the mapped environment.
6G sensing could enable new security body scanning techniques, health monitoring, miniaturized radars and more.
Better sensing ability has the potential to enable certain applications to detect the presence of chemicals, allergens and other potential defects or other substances in the air, foods or drinks.
High-bandwidth capabilities and sensing capabilities also lead to better imaging.
Radar capabilities at 6G’s proposed frequencies have advantages over light detection and ranging, or LIDAR, which is often used for sensing in autonomous vehicles, due to the lessened impact of weather and ambient light on its abilities.
6G frequencies could also allow us to see around corners, opening up applications in rescue, surveillance, autonomous navigation and more. Above 100 GHz, walls, floors and doors typically behave like mirrors, reflecting signals to other surfaces even if they aren’t in line of sight from where the signal originated.
“This is very useful for wireless communications because mmWaves experience extreme blockage from most objects, which has a deleterious effect on the wireless links,” Trichopoulos said, describing how the 6G spectrum waves can be easily blocked, unlike 4G signals that can typically penetrate walls.
Precise positioning, also called localization, is also possible using 6G; mmWave imaging and communication can detect the position of a portable device to within a centimeter of accuracy, whether the object is in view or not. In comparison, GPS locations are accurate to within about 15 feet and mostly outdoors.
Trichopoulos and Alkhateeb are the first researchers to show proof of concept that combining imaging and communications capabilities of the 6G frequency provides localization at very high accuracy, and it can be used to see objects out of line of sight
The better mapping and localization is key to what engineers call simultaneous localization and mapping, or SLAM, which is useful for autonomous driving, robotics applications, VR and AR.
Hard(ware) to pin down
Many of these capabilities rely on improvements to the hardware that will enable 6G wireless communications network technology.