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The 6G fight is not for us

WHILE we are waiting for full deployment of 5G in our markets there is a fight going on over 6G, the next roll-out of the industrial revolution. And it is a political fight which may hinder the dramatic introduction of Internet speeds, a move worthy of science fiction. The battle is for the first country to develop and patent 6G, opening up the possibilities of speeds 100 times faster than 5G.

The current rivalry between the USA and China over Huawei shows how geopolitical forces may dictate the next phase of the Internet. “This endeavour is so important that it’s become an arms race to some extent,” said Peter Vetter, head of access and devices at Nokia Oyj’s research arm, Bell Labs. “It will require an army of researchers on it to remain competitive.”

Amidst the Trump years’ acrimony Chinese technology companies have emerged as the leader in 5G, with Huawei Technologies Co holding the lead. The new Biden Administration has already signalled a renewed push for the USA to regain lost ground and has also expressed support for more Government investment in essential US technology as a counter to China.

Meanwhile, China launched a satellite last November to test airwaves for potential 6G transmission, and Huawei has a 6G research centre in Canada. Telecommunications equipment manufacturer ZTE Corp has also teamed up with China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd to develop the technology.

In the US, the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions, which includes technology giants like Apple, AT&T, Qualcomm, Google and Samsung, launched the Next G Alliance in October to “advance North American leadership in 6G”. Huawei was noticeably absent from that alliance. Nokia is leading the European Union’s 6G wireless project with companies like Ericsson AB and Telefonica SA, along with several universities.

Commercial 5G was introduced around 2019, and Caribbean countries are still rolling out networks and developing applications that could attract businesses and turn the technology profitable. But we have some time before we can realistically consider 6G since deployment could take as much as ten years. Meantime, the critical research continues in earnest to develop more incredible speeds to match science fiction imaginations of 6G networks through which people and things are connected. There is sure to be increasing scrutiny fuelled by the conspiracy theories suggesting health threats from 5G towers, claims roundly discounted.

However, early trials of 6G suggest there will be a need for even more towers, with multiple base stations installed on every street and in each building, or even each device people use to receive and transmit signals. It’s a situation bound to generate serious questions over health and privacy. Fortunately for us in the Caribbean, we are not the testing ground for these developments and therefore benefit from the final product being developed and determined safe for our environment.

While we look ahead to the latest development in Internet speeds, spare a thought for the underserved in our communities, highlighted by the response to the pandemic. Our priorities must be to deploy current technologies to create access equality and leave the science fiction speeds for another decade. That can wait.