The Next Horizon: How 6G eMBB+ Will Redefine Reality
This is the third blog in our 6G White Paper series looking at how technology will continue to evolve as the world adopts 6G networks.
Read the previous posts in the series here: 6G: The Next Horizon.
Extreme connectivity will be one of the pillars of 6G — delivering the ultimate network performance to support a wide range of applications that are simply impossible today. Enhanced Mobile Broadband+ (eMBB+) is the next step in connectivity, building on 5G’s eMBB. And as consumers, this is where we will see the most direct impact since it will enable things like Extended Reality (XR) and telepresence, engaging all of our senses.
With 5G, gone will be the days of disabling the camera because your call keeps lagging or worrying about streaming live events during peak hours. With 6G, eMBB+ will take things a step further. XR connections will be so fast that it will be hard to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s digital. There will be enough bandwidth and barely any delay in data transmission, so touch (haptics) and 3D (holography) will be possible.
You will also be able to access all these things on the go thanks to seamless mobility. Immersion and telepresence won’t be limited to certain places that are better connected. In densely populated areas, like city centers, office buildings, and public venues, broadband access will be available both indoors and outdoors. 5G will have provided coverage in rural areas, but 6G will also use Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTNs) — that’s right, satellites — to connect absolutely every corner of the world and at broadband speeds. We are talking 20 Gbit/s data rates and full network capacity even at peak times and in remote or difficult conditions.
Sounds powerful? Let me walk you through some of the fundamental, practical ways consumer connectivity will change with 6G’s eMMB+.
Fully immersive XR
The XR industry — including Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR) — is growing exponentially. As 5G penetrates more markets, XR applications are becoming more and more popular among regular consumers. Just last month, Decentraland held the first ever Metaverse Fashion Week, with the largest brands in the industry setting up shop in XR (literally) and NFTs taking center-stage in transactions.
To feel truly life-like, however, XR requires immensely high data rates and extremely low interactive latency. Essentially, video frame rates, resolution, and latency need to be close to the limit of human perception.
eMBB+ and other 6G technologies are slated to enable 100 times higher data rates and extremely low latency, supporting more and more immersive versions of XR. It may be difficult to imagine exactly what XR will be like in the future, but digital worlds will feel almost life-like.
A wide range of industries are already using XR, and we are sure to see even more of its applications. For example, Mojo Lens is developing an AR contact lens that will help users quickly access data on-the-go. The uber-cutting-edge device will display information hands-free, such as speech notes or exercise stats. There are many other use cases in healthcare, education, marketing, architecture, and so on. VR can even help generate empathy, something that organizations like UNICEF use to shed light on and create empathy around the fates of refugees.
All-new tactile experience
While XR is already here, eMBB+ will revolutionize the use of haptic technologies. Haptics essentially use tactile sensations in interfaces to transmit and help us understand information through touch. This tech isn’t exactly new. If you’ve ever felt your phone vibrate when you make a mistake or used a game controller with vibration feedback, then you’ve experienced haptic technology. That said, unleashing haptics beyond today’s basic uses requires exponentially more powerful networks.
Currently, there are three types of haptics — graspable, wearable, and touchable.
Graspable haptics are devices that feedback to our tendons, joints, nerves, and muscles. One example is a device that helps people control robotic operations. This may include tele-surgery and tele-diagnosis in the future. Today, graspable haptics are already used for things like bomb disposal or emergency rescue.
Right now, wearable haptics are usually things like gloves or other smaller devices. There are many of these being debuted in gaming and entertainment as well as other industries. For example, Touchpoint helps people reduce stress levels by wearing small vibrating devices at calming points on their bodies.
The SenseGlove showcased at Huawei MBBF 2019
Another example is the SenseGlove, which allows users to perceive shapes, textures, stiffness, impacts, and resistance of virtual objects. So far, it’s being tested by surgeons, in disaster recovery, production, and so on. However, these types of devices are still in their infancy — with a boom expected once networks can provide sufficient data rates to enable them.
Touchable haptics are already used by many of our daily devices. For example, if your phone can recognize gestures – that’s an example of touchable haptic technology. Stanford University is currently developing its 2.5 display for those with visual impairments. The display transmits real-world information in 3D by creating shapes in real-time, which the user can touch to get a sense of what’s happening around them. Again, advances in connectivity and reduced latencies, will allow for more uses of touchable haptics. They’ll essentially become a mainstream consumer technology.
Read more: TrackAI: Stopping Blindness in Its Tracks
Today, we still depend on some sort of device to display visual information, such as phones, screens, or glasses. But what if we could see 3D images without a headset or special glasses? In fact, holography, the technology that can make this happen, already exists. For example, Holoxica, one of the pioneering start-ups in holographic displays, has created several holographs. This includes a human anatomy atlas as well as solutions for architecture, medicine, and archaeology.
That said, there are currently many processing power limitations, particularly when trying to use smaller devices like mobile phones to create holographic displays. eMBB+ and other 6G technologies will unleash the true potential of holography. The use of holograms will become widespread in rescue, marketing, entertainment, and beyond. It will even be possible to use holograms to convey emotions and gestures, enabling easier long-distance communication.
Such tech will require an immense amount of network bandwidth, with raw data rates varying from sub-1 Tbit/s to a few hundred Tbit/s. Currently, research on compression techniques is ongoing, which will reduce bandwidth consumption, making holography more consumer-friendly.
Ultimately, combined with XR technologies, haptic communication, and holography, eMMB+ will be able to truly blur the lines between what’s real and what’s digital. Even with 5G, life-life XR, digital touch, and holographics on small devices are simply out of reach. eMMB+ will play a key role in enabling these technologies beyond what they are capable of today. From entertainment and marketing to essential services and humanitarian aid, they have the potential to make the world a better, more connected place.
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Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.