6G wide-area wireless barely has a technology roadmap or much name recognition at this early stage, but it is already clear that its electronics implications will be enormous for chip and components makers.
Semiconductors comprised of new materials and compounds will be used in next-generation transmitters and satellites, analysts forecast.
“6G communications may become an even bigger business than the 5G that is now rolling out worldwide,” wrote Raghu Das, CEO of analysts at IDTechEx in a recent note. “For both 5G and 6G, the software, hardware and materials opportunities are enormous. Despite this, only some of the giants are successfully participating.”
He noted that the Chinese launched a satellite in November to study 6G physics in the environment of space with terahertz electronics. Terahertz waves would boost transmission speeds many times faster than 5G when engineers and researchers develop effective technology.
One concept behind 6G is that it will provide power along with the signal to enable batteryless devices for the first time. Intelligent reconfigurable surfaces and software-controlled metasurfaces will be developed. “Much of the essential new hardware needed does not exist,” wrote Peter Harrop and James Edmonson at IDTechEx in a recent research report.
They envision terahertz transistors and solar drones that work in the stratosphere along with tens of thousands of low-orbit satellites. As a result, tens of billions of dollars will be invested by governments and companies. Competition between countries and regions for 6G superiority is already expected.
For materials suppliers, 6G means graphene and metamaterials will be critical for use in thermal, optical, electrical and electronics, they said. Compounds of materials will become even more important.
In December, Nokia was named to lead the European Commission’s 6G research initiative, project Hexa-X, of which Ericsson will be the technical manager. Orange, TIM, Telefonica, Intel and Siemens are partners.
The analysts said the Chinese solar drone Mei Ying, which works at 4,600 meters for fast Wi-Fi emergency networks, could team with 6G upper-atmosphere drones and low-earth orbit LEO satellites for communications.
Also, unmanned airships, a different inflatable from the now-canceled Loon balloons, could become commercial, they said. Lockheed-Martin and Thales Alenia are using a large area of flexible photovoltaics on the top of such an airship which can roll to face the sun. A year ago, Thales Alenia Space and Thales signed a contract with the French defense procurement agency for a study of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance using the Stratobus, with the first flight in 2023.
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