What is 6G, and is it the next big thing?

So, what's the next big thing in wireless technology?

What is 6G, and is it the next big thing?
A cyclist rides past a Nokia logo during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

The backstory: 5G is a fifth-generation global wireless standard that is faster and has more bandwidth than existing cellular networks. The race for 5G technology started back in 2019, and countries like the US, China and South Korea were at the forefront. But, despite all the buzz, only a few people are using it.

But 5G could be a game-changer for emerging technologies like driverless cars or unpiloted air taxis. That's because 5G has lower latency than 4G, which means it can provide the fast and reliable connectivity needed for these technologies to function safely and smoothly.

More recently: So, what's the next big thing in wireless technology? It's called 6G, and everyone seems to be talking about it. Even former US President Donald Trump tweeted about how he wanted it "as soon as possible" back in 2019, even though it didn't exist yet.

But it's not just talk – China is already taking steps to make it a reality. For example, in 2020, it launched a satellite to test airwaves for potential 6G transmission.

The development: Some telecoms execs predicted that we may see 6G hitting our devices by 2029, and the network could be rolled out by 2030. But, before we get too excited about the next-gen network, some improvements still need to be made in 5G. For example, operators are working on deploying standalone 5G, which means using technology independent of 4G to improve internet speeds and reliability. The telecoms bigwigs also agreed that perfecting 5G is more important than just hyping up 6G and confusing consumers.

Key comments:

"Unlike 5G, North America will not let the opportunity for a generational leadership slide by so easily this time," said Vikrant Gandhi, senior industry director of information and communications technologies for US company Frost & Sullivan. "It is likely that the competition for 6G leadership will be fiercer than that for 5G."

"5G adoption is accelerating in most countries where it has been deployed (including India, which is rapidly building 5G networks), but consumer subscribers are only one metric of take-up – ultimately enterprise markets, and industrial segments are where much of the potential is," said Richard Webb, director of network infrastructure, CCS Insight to CNBC.

"There is still one step to come before 6G and that's going to be called 5G advanced, which will become available on the market in a couple of years' time," said Pekka Lundmark, CEO of Nokia, to CNBC in an interview.