The Chinese claim of having launched a 6G capable satellite has invoked great interest amongst the technologists across the world. But what needs to be analysed is the fact that how much of that claim is for real?
The reason why such a question finds space in everything China claims or does is the fact that the country follows Sun Tzu and his age-old philosophies seriously, both in letter and spirit, be it in diplomacy, military, politics or economics. There is a certain air of ruthlessness in their conduct in every aspect, with the sole aim of establishing Chinese supremacy over the whole world.
It was only when the world community connected the various dots of the puzzle, did they realise that such a technological achievement was behind the recognition given to the scientist.
Sun Tzu said, “Appear weak when you are strong and strong when you are weak. The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”. Going by past precedence’s, China never publicly claimed a potent technological capability and reserved it for a time of their choosing. After all, the element of surprise is a key principle which decides the course of any war.
When the Hyper-spectral imaging cameras were positioned in space five years ago, China was silent and even awarded the chief scientist behind the program with the biggest national award clandestinely. It was only when the world community connected the various dots of the puzzle, did they realise that such a technological achievement was behind the recognition given to the scientist.
So, when they were so silent about a disruptive technology, why is it that the Chinese leadership chose to go public and announce the 6G capability so early. If we revisit the Sun Tzu doctrine as stated above, we may find an answer to this question atleast philosophically. But if we analyse the claim technically, we may be able to comprehensively debunk the mystery behind the claim.
With these being some developments in the last few months, it is evident that the satellite might have carried a payload for testing an early design prototype to test terahertz communication’s application in space.
Key enablers of 6G technology
6G as a technology is the future, enabling lossless transmission in space to achieve long-distance communications with smaller power output. 6G will go beyond a wired network with devices acting as antennas using a decentralised network which will not be under the control of a single network operator. In practice, if everything is connected through 5G, then 6G will set those connected devices free as higher data speeds and lower latency make instant device-to-device connection possible. In addition, 6G will target speeds approximately 8,000 times the speed of 5G.
When they were so silent about a disruptive technology, why is it that the Chinese leadership chose to go public and announce the 6G capability so early.
While 5G has made us familiar to technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT), 6G will be developed on the back of existing and new technologies. Dubbed “wireless cognition,” 6G could mean that human intelligence could eventually be sent over the air instantaneously. Remote-controlled robots and artificial intelligence applications with human-like capabilities could be enabled over 6G cellphones.
Millimetre wave technologies
Millimetre-wave, also known as millimetre band is the band of spectrum between 30 gigahertz and 300 gigahertz. Using millimetre-wave technologies opens up the possibility of having a wide channel bandwidth. With huge data speeds and bandwidths required for 6G, the millimetre wave technologies will be further extending into the TeraHertz region of the spectrum.
MIMO stands for Multiple-input multiple-output. This technology is a wireless network that allows transmitting and receiving of more than one data signal simultaneously over the same radio channel. Standard MIMO networks often use around three to four antennas, while massive MIMO makes use of a higher number of antennas, going up to thousands.
In recent times, China’s ZTE has used massive MIMO technology with as many as 96 to 128 antennas. Although MIMO is being used in many applications such as LTE and Wi-Fi, the number of antennas is fairly limited. In the coming years, as research on 6G reaches advanced stages, massive MIMO technology is expected to play an important role in its implementation.
On-demand artificial intelligence
The low latency and high capacity of 6G will also allow AI processing to be distributed among the device, edge cloud and central cloud, enabling flexible system solutions for a variety of new and enhanced experiences. Smart AI-based devices that operate at the edge for buildings, cities and vehicles can make complex decisions in real-time based on the data they see.
Imagine a camera that can understand what it is seeing in real-time and decides what actions to take based on the images it sees. This whole system will fit on a chip in an image sensor that can be mounted almost anywhere. So, if all the decision making takes place in this smart edge device, why do we need 6G? Truth be told, each device only knows the data local to itself—images, sound, temperatures, etc.
However, bringing in high-speed data can give that AI-driven device more context. For instance, an image sensor in a car can use AI and detect a road hazard. And if it can communicate in high speed with low latency, it can share that data with other cars to help them avoid the hazard, or it can incorporate data from other cars to optimise a route to ensure on-time arrival, considering traffic and weather ahead across multiple routes.
Challenges in operationalising 6G
While the 6Gspecifications seem to have been scripted straight out of a Hollywood fantasy movie, there are greater challenges that need to be overcome to transform that into a reality. Communication through terahertz frequencies is restricted to a few meters due to its short wavelength and absorption in the atmosphere.
Terahertz radiation is strongly absorbed by the gases of the atmosphere, and in air is attenuated to zero within a few meters, so it is not usable for terrestrial radio communication. Proof of concepts with Wi-Fi using the system is limited to approximately 10 meters (33 ft), but could allow data transmission at up to 100 Gbit/s.
While it is evident that 6G as a technology is very potent, it is a good decade away from commercial operationalisation, unless AI matures and accelerates the development timeframes. The claim of China is therefore misleading and needs to be given only as much credibility as any research in an emerging field deserves. At the same time, India as a country needs to wake up to these realities and soon put in place an ecosystem which can deliver results in a fixed timeframe.
We need to understand that technologies like AI, 6G and Quantum Computing cannot be acquired over the shelf and has the potential to cause serious harm to our Sovereignty and National Security. The Chinese model of technology development therefore should be given due weightage while drafting policies on matters of immense importance.