While so-called ‘6G’ technologies are nearly 10 years away from commercial availability, cellular industry advocates are already aligning 6G messaging with the current focus on sustainability.

In a white paper published in January, the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS), a US-based association representing network infrastructure vendors and operators, made the case for ”how the information and communications technology (ICT) industry can contribute to reducing overall energy consumption and achieving environmental sustainability objectives while accelerating progress toward 6G.”

Published by ATIS’s ‘Next G Alliance,’ the white paper calls out areas where key infrastructure elements, including radio equipment, data centers, and user devices, have already made significant improvements in reducing energy consumption despite insatiable end-user demand for data services. The white paper calls for continued advances on the path toward 6G, including:

  • Stepping up the use of system-on-a-chip (SoC) designs in radio access networks to dramatically reduce energy consumption;
  • Embedding solar panels and small wind turbines adjacent to cellular towers, along with advanced batteries for energy storage to maximize use of renewable energy sources;
  • Accelerating adoption of open RAN and virtualization to enable greater use of cloud data centers in place of local compute resources to reduce overall cooling, lighting, and electricity requirements;
  • Using green tariffs, virtual power purchase agreement contracts, renewable energy credits, and other techniques to help data centers move to renewable power sources;
  • Dramatically altering smartphone production processes to reduce the reliance on precious metals that require environmentally harmful mining operations.

In addition to minimizing ICT’s impact on the environment, ATIS is highlighting the role that mobile networks will play in enabling sustainability goals in a number of other vertical markets. The white paper is a prelude to a more aggressive ‘National 6G Roadmap’ that the Next G Alliance is planning to publish in early 2022.

6G roadmap or marketing initiative?

The fact that ATIS is already working toward tackling sustainability concerns with regard to a technology that will not be commercially deployed until the next decade should be regarded positively; and in truth, many of the steps the white paper suggests are not specifically 6G-related and can be taken well in advance of 6G standards being finalized.

However, considering that the first goal of ATIS’s Next G Alliance is to ”position North America as the global leader for 6G,” it’s tempting to view the new white paper, and the coming National 6G Roadmap, as more of a marketing initiative than an actual blueprint for action.