Who is winning in 6G?
In 5G, Samsung has more than ten times the patents than the next ten companies combined. However, just one percent of the patents have been filed on 6G compared to 5G, and it is Huawei of China in the lead, says market research firm IDTechEx.
With 6G, sensors are centre stage, the world’s sensor patents being dominated by Japan, South Korea then Germany. However, the analysts at IDTechEx caution that this simply reflects China’s preference for patent systems rather than components.
“Enabling 6G will be metamaterials many forms – passive, semi-active and active RIS, static sun-tracking photovoltaics, cooling of photovoltaics and thermoelectrics by just an overlayer, best base-station beam-steering antennas without moving parts. Semiconductor devices working at unprecedently high frequencies are needed in many forms,” said Raghu Das CEO of IDTechEx. “From published literature, China is not in the lead here. Application of artificial intelligence, edge computing, and new software is being pursued worldwide so robustly that there is a concern that the hardware is not keeping up. Bottom line? No one is winning in 6G. It is all to play for”.
Large companies are seen to participate and even collaborate on 6G. One example is Qualcomm, Apple, Google, and LG who are all members of one 6G working group. China has a satellite deployed exclusively for 6G research and a robust government policy of leapfrogging in the adoption of new technology and creating huge companies to do it. In Europe Ericsson is strongly patenting 6G and Robert Bosch strongly patents sensors in general but IDTechEx warns there is a danger that Europeans will be under-protected in the next wave of these technologies. Europe has few telecommunications hardware giants to tackle 6G but it has large telecommunications operators. However the Europeans are way ahead in practicing collaboration between multiple countries on future technology, says IDTechEx
From the outset, 6G will be both human- and machine-centric. In fact, personal devices may not dominate 6G. Europeans remember what happened to Nokia Finland and much of the formidable European Union 6G research funding is now managed from Finland as part of an attempted comeback with 6G systems. In mid-2021, the 5G Infrastructure Association published a “European Vision for the 6G Network Ecosystem”.
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The 6G Futures hub in the UK unites more than 400 world-renowned experts in telecommunications networks, cyber, Artificial Intelligence AI, digital humanities, social sciences, and arts from the University of Bristol and King’s College London.
Even the frequency is undecided. The global International Telecommunications Union ITU may decide that in 2023, no formal work having begun. Taking 5G as a model, many other bodies will participate in about eight years of 6G standards writing. ETSI in Europe, which produces globally applicable standards for ICT, has launched a new Industry Specification Group on Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces (RIS).
Vast areas of RIS must be placed on buildings, indoor walls, and elsewhere for 6G to work because the beams are so feeble at the higher frequencies essential for vastly better data transfer and response, they only go in a straight line and they are subject to weather. As yet it is unclear who is winning in this essential “relay of the future”.
6G RIS cannot affordably operate without metamaterials to limit their power consumption, size and cost and eliminate moving parts. Europe has seen the most metamaterial research but the USA now has most of the metamaterial manufacturers.
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