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The Evolution of 5G and the Upcoming Utilization of 6G

The Evolution of 5G and the Upcoming Utilization of 6G

An image of a cell tower from a ground view

5G, 6G, 7G, when will it end? It seems like only yesterday, the telecommunications market was fawning over the development of 5G technology, yet discussions about 6G and even 7G are already on the table. After the world-wide disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic, did 5G even meet the high expectations being touted pre-global lockdown? Yes and no.

Like the World Wide Web (WWW), telecommunication technology has undergone several generational evolutions, specifically regarding cellular networks. Each generational shift is marked by a new or outstanding feature that defines these changes into a new technological era. Like how each WWW era is known for a key difference, such as WWW 2.0’s user-generated content.  

1G, the first generation of wireless cellular technology, was defined by its support for voice calls in the 1980s. In 1991, 2G telephone technology was introduced with call and text encryption, giving rise to new data services, including SMS, picture messages, and MMS. By 1998, the development of 3G “mobile broadband” with faster data transmission speeds entered the ring.  

Ten years later, in 2008, 4G, the previous and still widespread standard, was released. Most current cell phone models support 4G and 3G, with mobile web access to the internet, HD mobile TV, video conferencing, and higher transmission speeds. As with former cellular network generations, 4G was dethroned officially in 2019.

In the months before the Covid-19 pandemic, 5G cellular network technology began to roll out. Compared to the previous cellular network generations, 5G could be argued to be the most disruptive innovation among its predecessors. A novel technology in 2019, 5G played a surprisingly imperative role in Covid-19 prevention and control–similarly, it became associated with some out-of-the-box rumors, too. 5G’s enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), ultra-reliable and low latency communication (URLLC), and massive machine-type communication (mMTC) proved invaluable if not, at the time, fully understood.

The Development and Implementation of 5G

What is the difference between 5G and its predecessors? 5G was designed to deliver faster data rates, a trait consistently improved upon with each generation of cellular technology. A particular selling point of 5G’s introduction was its potential capabilities to “transform the way [people] use the internet to access applications, social networks, and information.”  

Specifically, this transformed relationship would significantly affect device connectivity by establishing more reliable, high-speed data connections that would primarily benefit the success of self-driving cars or live streaming media. Despite operating on the same radio frequencies as 4G, 3G, and their subsets–such as 4G LTE–5G offers low latency and a broader range of bandwidths for immediate responses and a new spectrum of frequencies.  

With these developments, 5G can be used across three main types of connected services: enhanced mobile broadband, mission-critical communications, and the growing Internet of Things (IoT). An aspect of 5G that separates it from its predecessors is its flexibility for forward compatibility, giving it the capability to support services not yet created or known today.  

This is especially pertinent with the growing interest in using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in mobile technology. Similarly, the continued implementation and development of the metaverse benefits from the higher connectivity that 5G technology offers.

5G was developed to expand connectivity, shown in its ultra-reliable and low-latency links that provide stable remote control for critical communications necessary for autonomous vehicles and medical procedures. Likewise, 5G’s reliability for device connectivity, as this cellular network can connect a “massive number of embedded sensors in virtually everything through the ability to scale down in data rates, power, and mobility,” has made it a highly desired option.  

5G’s Stuttered Beginnings  

The rollout of 5G by major mobile operators, including Verizon and AT&T, began in earnest in 2021 through 2022. While deployment officially began in 2019, the rollout hardly went as smoothly or quickly as expected, due to a number of issues. Security threat controversy also complicated matters in 2019 regarding specific network equipment produced in China. That’s not even touching upon the most significant monkey’s wrench: the global semiconductor shortage.  

While 5G proved invaluable throughout the pandemic, improving communication efficiency which enabled medical care to better trace infected persons’ travel histories to identify the possible distance the coronavirus spread, its overall deployment was limited in scope. A new world of possibilities opened for the medical sector, thanks to 5G’s flexibility, but its implementation was nowhere close to the original goal.  

According to the New York Institute of Technology, 2023 was expected to be the true year of 5G. That’s almost 4 years since its official introduction. Expectations have fallen a tad short, primarily due to recession concerns and the downturn in the semiconductor industry. 5G’s rollout included investment requirements for new cell sites, equipment, infrastructure, network architecture, and more. Its capabilities, true 5G high-speed, had not yet been witnessed in its totality. Even AT&T and Verizon delayed deployment of further 5G services until 2023, contributing to the opinion that 5G has fallen short of expectations.

2023 hasn’t been a complete bust for 5G. Research group MarketsandMarkets expects the 5G services market to grow by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25.3% between 2022 and 2027. A boom one can attribute partly to the increased interest in mobile connectivity and intelligent automation, which requires ultra-reliable and real-time data transmissions. The unexpected popularity of generative artificial intelligence (AI) has also catalyzed further actions to improve existing network structures to implement 5G.  

However, even though 5G hasn’t reached its fullest potential after several years of delays, innovation waits for nothing. The future generation of cellular network tech is already in development.

What Will 6G Technology Offer?

Following appropriate numerical numbering, the sixth generation of cellular technology, or 6G, is the future successor to 5G. Like 5G’s improvement on 4G, 6G will be able to use higher frequencies than 5G networks with substantially higher capacity and much lower latency. The aim of 6G cellular networks will be the capability to support “one-microsecond latency communications. This is 1,000 times faster -- or 1/1000th the latency -- than one millisecond throughput.”

The improved frequency and transmission speed could be instrumental in advancing the development of wireless sensing technology, leading to further improvements in imaging, presence technology, and location awareness. Combined with the growing implementation of artificial intelligence, 6G computational infrastructure could produce intelligent decisions regarding data storage, processing, and sharing.  

Like 5G, 6G could require further investment in installing 6G networks. Mobile edge computing is another feature that will define 6G from its predecessors and must be integrated into existing 5G networks to support the capabilities 6G technology offers. Are these steps essential if 5G’s rollout was already a complicated issue?

Yes, for several reasons.

6G technology will better integrate previously disparate tech, something 5G has paved the way for but not yet merged. The need for edge computing to ensure low latency for ultra-reliable communications solutions will be one of the main features of 6G, especially with the growing calls for virtualization, programmable networks, and issues surrounding the simultaneous support of public and private networks. More support for machine-to-machine communication in IoT and, finally, more robust HPC performance through centralized resources for processing is necessary.  

The growing use of AI and next-generation computation capabilities, as seen with quantum computers and RAN technology, 6G, will be the final push for all new technologies to merge. 5G simply set the stage with its future device compatibility.  

Of course, it won’t end with 6G. Discussions are already taking place on how 7G cellular technology will improve upon 6G’s outstanding proficiencies.  

Find the Perfect Component on Sourcengine

5G, 6G, or 7G, to make the next solution for the current or upcoming generation of cellular technology, companies will need leading-edge chips to make these projects come to fruition. Supply-demand stabilization is still not entirely within reach after the global semiconductor shortage and the resulting chip glut. Original component manufacturers (OCMs) and other chip suppliers are expanding their global reach, but as 5G use rises, new fabs may not be operational by the time orders come in.

Labor shortages continue to plague the chip industry. With the growing use of AI technology, components that saw production cuts due to excess inventory over 2023 may see a shortage in 2024. Many small to mid-sized companies–and sometimes even prominent industry leaders–might not have the financial power to purchase advanced chips necessary for 5G and 6G demands, with tech giants like Apple and Nvidia buying out the production capacity of foundry leader TSMC’s products.  

To get the components you need for your next telecommunications solution, you must find a partner who can supply hard-to-find parts no matter the circumstances. That partner is Sourcengine.  

As the leading e-commerce site for electronic components, Sourcengine has over 3,500 franchise, direct, or qualified third-party suppliers with millions of part offers available for procurement. For clients that can’t find what they need onsite, buyers can send Sourcengine’s team an RFQ for their quote. Get started on your next project with help from Sourcengine.  

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