On October 13, 2020, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) introduced its new iPhone 12 models, the company’s first to accommodate 5G networks. Lost in the hubbub that surrounds any new Apple device was the announced formation of an industry group by the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions that would begin working on 6G networks.
The Next G Alliance has been created to “advance North American mobile technology leadership in 6G and beyond over the next decade.” At the time of the announcement, the Next G Alliance included founding members AT&T, Bell Canada, Facebook, Microsoft, Qualcomm and Samsung, among others. Apple and Google joined the group in mid-November.
According to a report at Bloomberg, Apple posted job ads last weekend seeking engineers “to craft next generation wireless technology that will have [a] deep impact on future Apple products” and help create “next generation disruptive radio access technologies over the next decade.”
So, what is 6G? The short answer is that no one knows yet, but that won’t keep any company or country from declaring that whatever it has or will have is “real” 6G.
China launched a satellite last November that it called the world’s first 6G satellite. According to one report, the Tianyan-5 satellite will test high-frequency terahertz communications capable of speeds several times faster than 5G’s top speed of more than 100 gigabits per second. According to a report from Australia’s ABC News, 6G networks have the potential to give users speeds of 1 terabyte per second, the equivalent of 8,000 gigabits per second.
If consumers can stream a movie seamlessly with download speeds of around 25 megabits per second, what does the world need 6G network speeds for? The answer is all those smart home appliances, self-driving cars, health care apps and stuff that hasn’t even been invented yet.
Vehicle-to-vehicle communications, for example, are going to be critical to fully autonomous vehicles that need not only to watch traffic but to interact with other vehicles. That will require networks that can transmit a lot of relatively small bits of data at very high speeds.
No tech or telecom company wants to be left out of the discussions that lead to a 6G specification. That may still be a few years away, and then another few years before the technology is deployed, but Apple is not going to be the last one to join the party.