While they continue to try to convince wireless customers what’s so great about 5G, mobile network operators and telecoms infrastructure vendors have already turned their focus to 6G. The early indications are that 6G may become as politicized as 5G has become.

The Chinese government announced on Twitter in November that it had sent 13 satellites into orbit, including one built by the Taiyuan Satellite Research Center that it declared the “world’s first 6G experiment satellite.” The test includes transmission over so-called ‘terahertz spectrum’ at frequencies above 100 GHz that are not currently used in wireless operations but hold great promise for new Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

The Chinese government intends to use terahertz spectrum to test a number of smart city, environmental monitoring, and disaster prevention applications such as crop and forest fire monitoring.

Aggressive tactics to the fore in 6G

In May, Chinese telecoms vendor ZTE announced it was working with China Unicom, one of the country’s three major network operators, to collaborate on 6G technology development.

China is by no means alone in embracing 6G technologies. In June, the US-based Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS), whose mission is to help boost US-based vendors and operators as technology evolves to 5G and beyond, issued a call to action for government, academia, and industry participants to work together to establish a 6G beachhead in the US.

That culminated in the formation of the ATIS’s ‘Next G Alliance’ in October, focused squarely on 6G. The alliance’s founding members include all three major US mobile operators, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, as well as a smaller operator, US Cellular. It also included Facebook as well as a handful of mostly North American infrastructure vendors.

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Meanwhile, South Korea, the country that was first to deploy 5G nationally, is clearly positioning for leadership in 6G. Korean smartphone and infrastructure manufacturer Samsung shared its 6G vision in a white paper published in July. That vision includes streaming augmented reality applications in 8K definition and high-fidelity holograms.

Hot air and vaporware

There’s one major catch to the recent flurry of 6G discussion: it’s all talk so far. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which is responsible for radio communication standards, is not expected to begin work on 6G standards until 2021, and commercially available 6G networks will not be ready for eight to ten years.

However, the 6G hype cycle already appears to be well underway.