6G The Next Horizon: IoT and Beyond
This is the fifth blog in our 6G White Paper Series, explaining how technology will continue to evolve as the world adopts 6G networks.
Check out the other posts in the series here: 6G: The Next Horizon.
The other day, my phone suddenly started playing Spotify even though I’d pressed play on my PC. It felt a bit weird, but it was actually quite handy. Then, it proceeded to tell me I did over 10K steps, reading the metric from my sports watch.
I can’t say that I live in a smart home quite yet. I’ve only been in a driverless car a couple of times and it went about 10 km/h. But like me, you may have noticed things slowly becoming more and more interconnected.
Well, get ready, because these small changes will turn our world into a place where absolutely everything is connected. This is what the industry refers to as the Internet of Things (IoT) — a range of physical devices (things) that can connect to one another and exchange data over the Internet.
IoT depends in large part on the evolution of massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC). In 5G, mMTC is defined by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) as one of the primary directions for network evolution because it supports a massive number of lightly connected devices that occasionally send data. This enables a lot of the systems we label “smart”: smart cities, healthcare, buildings, transportation, and so on. Once fully implemented, 5G will enable networks to support 10 times more devices than 4G.
That may seem like a lot, but the number of devices that will need to be interconnected for future smart services is absolutely massive — some predictions point to requiring support for 107 devices per square kilometer. That’s where 6G comes in, building on 5G’s advancements in mMTC to support a 100 times more connected devices than 4G ever could using mMTC+.
So, with this much connectedness, what might a “smart” world look like?
We’ll be living in smart buildings and cities
One of the big changes in the way IoT will operate with 6G involves Integrated Sensing and Communications (ISAC). While there will be more connected devices, the network itself will also be able to sense, picking up on a different range of cues compared to say cameras or temperature sensors.
Particularly, integrated sensing will focus on precise positioning and speed sensing, often beyond the line of sight of a camera. This is ideal for things like traffic monitoring at complex intersections, bringing cities another step closer to safe, fully autonomous driving. In addition to reducing the number of devices required at an intersection, this option could also alleviate some of the privacy concerns around video sensing, as it will not be collecting footage the way cameras do.
This is just one isolated example of a use case enabled by ISAC and mMTC+, but we can begin to imagine what this type of integration and expansion in sensing technologies may enable. Add in native Artificial Intelligence (AI), and you get things like smart buildings that sense the needs of their residents while also reducing energy consumption by optimizing every process in the building. Or, roads that “talk” to vehicles and create a seamless autonomous driving ecosystem that is safe and fully connected.
Expand that to all other units in the city, and we can finally picture what a true smart city might look like in 2030 and beyond.
We’ll see longer-range IoT connections
The current long-range IoT industry is quickly growing, but is still relatively new. Many limitations persist, including obstacles to ranges beyond the line of sight, battery durability, and energy consumption.
The industry anticipates that both the network and terminals in 6G will be significantly more energy-efficient, in part thanks to advanced IoT sensing capabilities. At the same time, lower energy consumption will make longer IoT ranges possible in the first place. Currently, research is underway on how 6G and mMTC+ can enable longer IoT ranges, which will enable many new functions.
What might these new services look like? 6G-powered long-range IoT could collect information from buoys in oceans to report container status while at sea. It could also obtain data from sensors in forests or deserts to forecast and prevent natural disasters, protecting the environment and saving lives. And with longer-range connectivity, we’re going to see ever-more integrated connections between sensors, devices, networks, places, cities, and more, until everything is truly connected.
We’ll witness new services that don’t exist yet
To start imagining what types of new services mMTC+ might enable, we need to first think about the importance of connecting a wide range of devices and communicating sensed data between them. Sensing, analyzing, and communicating data in real time can be revolutionary for many industries.
Take healthcare as an example. Right now, a doctor needs to physically be in the room with a patient to understand the patient’s condition. But what if the doctor could do it remotely? Going further, what if the room could directly sense and monitor any changes in a patient’s condition and then alert the doctor to remotely adjust treatment plans immediately?
With mMTC+ and longer range IoT, this could be a real possibility, opening access to quality healthcare in remote areas and better serving patients who prefer to receive care in the comfort of their own homes. This would also go quite some way towards relieving the pressure on healthcare services as physician shortages persist and the global population ages.
At the same time, we’ll see futuristic applications like the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), also called drones. Today, they’re primarily used to collect data in industries like agriculture, construction, search and rescue, and videography. 6G and mMTC+ will enable a whole new range of services provided by UAVs. Powered by integrated sensing and AI, drones will be able to connect with many other IoT devices as well as municipal transport networks.
We can look forward to smart UAV services where drones can sense weather, predict flight trajectories, and autonomously manage the flow of UAVs in the skies. This will enable services like smart package deliveries, mobile battery charging for electric vehicles, managing and broadcasting events, and much more.
And what of devices themselves? They’re going to be different from what we know today. They will become more versatile, integrating novel sensing and multi-sensory capabilities, AI, and new display technologies. Think wearable and implantable devices, healthcare monitoring, gesture recognition, robotics, smart equipment, all connected through IoT.
The truth is that we don’t know exactly what an all-connected world will look like. We can research, plan, imagine. At the end of the day, we’ll just have to wait and see how our lives will change with these advanced technologies. I reckon, it will be for the better.
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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.