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5G a “Bust” So Far—and 6G Can Learn From It, Says SK Telecom
October 4, 2023 News


Written by: Martin Dale Bolima, Tech Journalist, AOPG.

For all the buzz about 5G shaking up industries and more, there appears to be a harsher truth rarely talked about: It has not lived up to the hype just yet.

That is the overriding theme of the white paper “5G Lessons Learned, 6G Key Requirements, 6G Network Evolution, and 6G Spectrum” by SK Telecom, South Korea’s leading mobile carrier and a sibling company of the well-known chipmaker SK Hynix. Among the numerous points presented in its white paper, SK Telecom highlights that 5G was overhyped and, regrettably, underdelivered, effectively labelling it as a ‘bust’ by that standard.

The white paper does clarify that the performance of 5G networks is not actually the issue per se. Rather, the problem with 5G is that it has not actually succeeded in terms of what it is supposed to achieve, like enabling autonomous driving, enhancing extended reality, and improving unmanned aerial vehicles. The authors argue that while incremental improvements occurred, the full promise of 5G has nonetheless been hindered by “device form factor constraints, immaturity of device and service technology, low or absent market demand, and policy/regulation issues.”

Not a Total Failure But a Lot More Was Expected

To be clear, SK Telecom does not deem 5G as a complete, abject failure. In fact, the paper pointed out that 5G actually achieved several of the goals outlined by the International Telecommunication Union-Radiocommunication for 5G. Unfortunately, other goals remain unmet four years after 5G was first deployed commercially. Though to be fair, most of those unmet goals are supposed to be achieved in the long term, but consumer expectations, unfortunately, just happened to be rather “excessive.”

It is in this context that 5G failed to live up to the hype, as consumers have been expecting massive leaps in the way LTE revolutionised connectivity from the days of 3G. But instead of these giant strides, 5G precipitated only incremental improvements—and most were hardly noticeable to the everyday consumer. That is not to take away from 5G because it did produce some wins, like reducing data cost per gigabyte by at least 70%.

The Lessons of 5G Can Help 6G

Not all is lost. On the contrary, the future looks brighter than ever with the continued rollout and refinement of 5G. More than that, however, is the emergence of 6G, which is already in development and can be a significant upgrade to 5G when it comes sometime in 2030.

But it better learn from the mistakes of 5G to be fully revolutionary. Among other things, SK Telecom recommends that all 6G stakeholders work together to expand 6G use cases, ensure better and more streamlined spectrum management, facilitate better utilisation of open interfaces, and simplify the architecture options.

“It is necessary to design an architecture that can maintain service quality, including speed experienced by customers, at a level equal to or higher than that of existing services,” SK Telecom suggested in its paper.

Additionally, the Korean telecom suggests that the success of 6G will also depend on artificial intelligence and sensing technology—the backbone technologies of the innovations that will rely much on 6G much like they are now with 5G. These innovations include autonomous driving, extended reality, and digital twins.

Taking the Lead in 6G

Perhaps unsurprisingly, SK Telecom hinted at its plans to take a leading role in developing 6G technology—and, in the process, make South Korea a global ICT leader. But the country and SK Telecom will have company, as the US and China have already begun 6G-related research as well, while Japan and the European Union are positioning themselves similarly.

However, having so many leaders might not be a bad thing for a technology that can potentially be even more groundbreaking than the initial promise of 5G.

Then again, 5G is still here, and the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) has revealed that worldwide 5G consumer connections are likely to breach two billion by the end of 2025—after reaching 1 billion last year.

That makes 5G “the fastest generational rollout when compared to 3G and 4G”—and is reason enough to maybe refine it just a little bit more to see if it can fulfil that immense promise.