Japanese mobile operator SoftBank Corp unveiled its concept for sixth-generation mobile networks which, unsurprisingly, will transmit and receive data at higher radio frequencies than the wireless waves carrying data employed in 5G. ‘6G is a technology for the 2030s,’ said Ryuji Wakikawa, Vice President and Head of the Advanced Technology Division at SoftBank. ‘Right now, it is still at a fundamental level of research and development that is going on mainly at universities,’ adding that for the past four years SoftBank has been working with a number of universities on a range of 6G technologies and applications.
Whilst R&D is at an early stage, Wakikawa confirmed that the company sees 6G being able to deliver ‘100s of gigahertz rising to terahertz. Compare those frequencies to the tens of gigahertz at which 5G operates, or the single-digit gigahertz range for 4G’. Further, he outlined the need to achieve microsecond latency in communications, compared to the thousandths of a second latency currently available for 5G’s millisecond latency. Here, Wakikawa talked about telehealth services aims noting that in order to provide fast, dependable diagnostics and treatments remotely for, say, stroke victims, terabits-a-second communication is going to be the goal.
However, a number of technological and indeed cost issues remain if SoftBank is to achieve such a goal. Whilst the mobile operator has over 200,000 base transceiver stations (BTS), covering all of Japan from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the southwest, even if upgrading each and every base station it would still not meet the demands of the new applications that SoftBank has in mind. Noting that an additional 7,000 BTS would be required to cover the northern island of Hokkaido alone, SoftBank said it has started developing Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN) – i.e. infrastructure in the air – to provide ‘all-encompassing connectivity from the stratosphere and space once it is integrated with the ground base stations’.
‘With this all-inclusive coverage, SoftBank aims to provide in the next several years comprehensive connectivity for the fishing, shipping and mining industries, and also cater to the needs of businesses, consumers and regional governments by delivering wider 4G and 5G connectivity. And, of course, the infrastructure in the air is preparing the way for blanket 6G land coverage,’ it said in a press release.