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As Western powers continue to grapple with if or how to fit Huawei's 5G networks into their societies, reports have revealed the Chinese telecom giant is already well into researching 6G.

Globe News Story:

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Huawei is beginning 6G research
As Western powers continue to grapple with if or how to fit Huawei's 5G networks into their societies, reports have revealed the Chinese telecom giant is already well into researching 6G.

Huawei is beginning 6G research — a mobile network that may move far beyond smartphones

6G, a term used for the globe's "sixth-generation mobile" wireless internet network, will be the successor to the world's still-forthcoming mobile network, 5G.

Presently, that network is slowly being rolled out in cities around the globe, and in Australia, access to the service has been slow, with coverage so far being provided by just Telstra and Optus.

However, this week, tech website The Logic reported that Huawei was the latest company to join a small list of companies and universities commencing 6G's research and development.

Huawei's research will happen at the company's Canadian lab, and Song Zhang, Huawei Canada's vice-president of research strategy and partnerships, told Logic the company was "in talks with Canadian university researchers" about the network's development.

Yang Chaobin, the president of Huawei's 5G products, said that 6G would not be viable until 2030.

But with 5G technology is still in its infancy — and with many telecommunications company still determining how and where to implement 5G infrastructure — is the move to 6G research jumping the gun?

Top speeds

NBN - 100 megabits per second (top tier available to buy)

5G - 1,450 megabits per second (US test of peak speed)

6G - 8,000,000 megabits per second (predicted)

Before we get into 6G, it might be worth revisiting what 5G is.

5G has the potential to be 10 to 100 times faster than the 4G networks most smartphones currently use

That network has been running from 2009, which took over from 3G networks that launched in the early 2000s, and 2G networks that brought the world text messages for the first time in the 1990s.

Mahyar Shirvanimoghaddam, an expert in wireless communications at the University of Sydney, told the ABC that there were "three main focus areas" that separates 5G from 4G: speed, capacity and stability.

"[5G] should have a very high data rate, it should never be interrupted, and the reliability of the service should be very high," he said.

Tests with US mobile provider Verizon have recorded peak download speeds of 1.45 gigabits per second (more than 14 times the top speed of Australia's NBN). But that's not the only advantage of 5G over 4G.

Technology website CNET reported that 5G's lag time — the amount of time it takes between clicking a link and the network responding — could be reduced to the amount of time it takes for a flash to fire on a normal camera.

This emerging network is touted to increase the digitisation of everyday life — from smart home appliances, to self-driving vehicles or even medical hardware.

On a smartphone, 5G networks promise users the ability to download a season's worth of television in a matter of seconds.

According to Dr Shirvanimoghaddam, 5G adoption on smartphones will be where the bulk of the network is used, as that is where "providers and operators are going to make money".

6G: A world almost 8,000 times faster than 5G

To get your head around what 6G may deliver, it's going to be a matter of scale.

Dr Shirvanimoghaddam said 6G networks had the potential to give users speeds of 1 terabyte per second, or 8,000 gigabits per second.

To put this in perspective, streaming Netflix in its highest quality for an hour is worth 56 gigabits of data, so in 6G-terms, you'd be able to download just over 142 hours of Netflix's top-quality video every second.

This data-processing capacity has the potential to completely change the relationship humans have to technology, as the 6G era could allow for devices to be used "through our brains", according to Dr Shirvanimoghaddam.

"We are carrying more and more devices that may control our health or everyday activities, and all of them use extensive artificial intelligence and machine-learning algorithms," he said.

He said the overwhelming majority of these devices will rely on cloud services that require higher network bandwidths.

"5G simply won't be able to provide that service, and that's why we need to move to 6G."

While Huawei's foray into 6G might appear premature, according to Dr Shirvanimoghaddam, commencing 6G research in 2019 is to be expected.

"You have to keep in mind that mobile network standards work in roughly nine-year cycles — we've already finished the standardisation of 5G," he said.

But as it stands, there are significant hurdles for 6G researchers, as Dr Shirvanimoghaddam said its creation would require significant improvements in "material science, computing architecture, chip design and energy use".

"We have to think about sustainable ways to power all of these [6G-connected] devices otherwise we are going to burn the Earth," he said.

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