“Metaverse” is the buzzword now. And one of the exciting possibilities of hot-topic technology is simultaneous translation. Imagine that you’re able to sit next to a person from Japan, and while you’re talking to him in English, Japanese is coming out in your voice, and even your face moves as if you spoke in Japanese. Exciting, right? There is just a tiny little problem.
“Because it requires a lot of data very quickly, it would likely freeze. It wouldn’t be in real-time. So there would be a big delay,” said Melanie Subin, the Director of Consulting for Future Today Institute.
She believes early versions of the metaverse definitely can function on 5G. Right now, most people are entering it through their laptops, and that, without a headset, isn’t immersive anyway.
But if we start to see augmented reality or, for example, the simultaneous translation take hold, a 6G network will be needed for it to work well.
“While 5G has really improved things over 4G, it’s a long way from being able to deliver two gigabits per second to a lot of people at one time,” said Tom Marzetta, the director of NYU Wireless. His research center at New York University was the first in the world to prove that infrastructure for 5G exists. Now, they research the future of 6G.
According to Marzetta, 5G can’t provide service, for example, for 30,000 people in Time Square, all with augmented reality devices strapped on.
The bad news is that 6G still doesn’t exist. But on the bright side, it is already in its early research phase, and experts predict that early deployment could occur around 2030.
Mahyar Shirvanimogaddam from the University of Sidney told ABC that the speed of 6G could be one terabyte per second. So in about eight years, the internet network would be so fast that one could download 142 hours of Netflix’s top-quality video for the same time as it takes now to download just one movie (and only if it’s already being downloaded on 5G, not 4G).
“The bottom line is that 6G will be the world’s first global cellular technology transmitting information over the airwaves at the real-time speed of how the human brain thinks,” Ted Rappaport, the founding director of NYU Wireless, said.
As Rappaport called it, wireless cognition means that objects can communicate with each other wirelessly at the same speed as the computations of the human brain.
This is where Melanie Subin sees metaverse’s potential. No more staring at the screen and typing; people will live more freely, hands down and heads up.
“For example, if I’m walking down the street into the train station, I can see the direction set up in front of me in my glasses. When I walk in, the train station recognizes me and automatically charges my card. I’m able to see a text message or hear it in my ears,” she said.
Bloomberg called the future rollout of 6G a possible next industrial revolution that could deliver real-time holograms, flying taxis, and internet-connected human bodies and brains.
Innovations related to 6G and 5G will also lead to societal changes. NYU Wireless’ research showed that 5G, which is now being rolled out, is the first global wireless standard that actually could help bridge the digital divide in rural areas.
That is because both 5G and 6G use smaller lamppost-sized antennas to transmit data.
“Where we can’t afford to go in and put fiber cable, we could easily put up a little lamppost,” Tom Marzetta said. Such infrastructure would be more pervasive, lower power – therefore greener – and it will connect more devices.
It all sounds great, but as Rappaport pointed out, the United States is behind in the 6G research. While China and the EU are already active (China even included 6G in its current Five Year Plan and launched a satellite into orbit that is supposed to text terahertz-frequency radio technology, which in theory will be part of 6G standard), the US lacks fundamental research funding and has no domestic cellular infrastructure manufacturer.
“It’s a race for the future economic leadership. It affects all citizens and the quality of life in the country we live in,” Rappaport said. With NYU Wireless, he is trying to push the US government into more significant investments to develop new ideas to make 6G happen.
That is also why The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions, the US telecom standards developer, launched Next G Alliance in October last year and put together the Roadmap to 6G.
The report suggests areas the US should focus on rural areas coverage, climate sustainability, security, technological education, communication to the public, but it doesn’t include any practical implications.
So far, Congress passed the “FUTURE Networks Act” on December 1, 2021, which now goes to the Senate for consideration. If approved, it will direct the Federal Communications Commission to establish a “6G Task Force” that would come up with the US plan to put 6G into practice.