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When 5G Isn’t Enough, it Will Be Time for 6G

A number of attendees at the recent IMS could be heard wondering about the next step that would be taken when 5G's bandwidth runs out.

Wireless communications technology and devices have become such an important part of daily lifestyles that the entire RF/microwave industry was abuzz at the recent 2019 IEEE International Microwave Symposium (IMS) about the prospects of mass-producing mmWave components at 24 GHz and higher for 5G cellular wireless networks. The concept for 5G is simple: When bandwidth is gone at lower frequencies, reach into the mmWave frequency range for the bandwidth needed for fast wireless data rates over shorter distances.

But what happens when the 5G bandwidth is all gone? Some visitors on the 2019 IMS exhibition show floor of the Boston Convention Center had already begun to ask about 6G wireless networks.

For an RF/microwave industry that prides itself on its forward-looking vision, it should not be surprising that attention is now being given to the possibilities for 6G technology. NYU Wireless, for one, which had a great deal to do with exploring the real-world possibilities of 5G technology, is focusing research on the sub-THz radio spectrum that will be applied to 6G telecommunications.

For example, Ted Rappaport, the founding director of NYU Wireless at NYU Tandon, and team members published a report in IEEE Access on the potential for 6G technology and even further down the road. The 27-page invited paper, “Wireless Communications and Applications Above 100 GHz: Opportunities and Challenges for 6G and Beyond,” addresses some of the work to be done in a 2025 through 2030 timeframe. Applications are projected for commercial, industrial, and military users for a variety of systems, including positioning and line-of-sight (LOS) communications.

However, success will depend on development of advanced circuit materials and precision manufacturing techniques to maintain the machine tolerances needed in support of THz frequencies. Some frequency bands, such as 550 and 760 GHz, may be problematic because of the high atmospheric attenuation compared to other frequency bands, so THz frequency bands must be carefully chosen for optimum results. Still, as the white paper explains, if the large bandwidths provided by 5G frequencies have been exhausted by those future timeframes, much promise remains in the frequency bands beyond 100 GHz.

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