Providing ubiquitous cellular coverage has, naturally, been constrained by the profitability imperatives of the mobile industry. This has been the case in all countries and through all generations of cellular technology from 2G through to 5G and will not change with the arrival of 6G.
Indeed, providing macro-cellular, wide-area coverage at the higher frequency bands being considered for 6G will be even more expensive than in previous G’s. With 3G decommissioning having started in many countries, the actual cellular footprint, at least, for data, and possibly for voice too, is likely to shrink in the years to come (unless the relevant spectrum is promptly re-farmed for 4G and 5G). This effect will be, particularly, noticeable indoors.
Here, we propose two enablers to compensate for such potential deficit and take a practical step towards ubiquitous wireless coverage. A technology enabler and a regulatory one.
“Core-Centric” 6G as enabler for ubiquitous coverage
We believe that the main purpose of 6G should be the enablement of widest possible access, by all people across the world, to digital services and voice. To that end, a novel Intelligent Core Network should be the key feature of 6G which facilitates access to multiple radio access technologies including existing 2G-5G plus the new 6G radio as well as LEO satellite and WiFi whilst also catering for interworking with private networks.
In effect, with such an overarching Intelligent Core, 6G would be a “Network of Networks”, maximising access to wireless connectivity, leveraging all existing infrastructures, as well as new ones, where users can access any radio coverage supported by their device. We have discussed details of this unconventional approach in our previous blog ( https://azenby.com/archives/3107 ) where ‘sum of the parts’ including LEO Satellite and WiFi along with all cellular networks in the country would go a long way towards near-100% coverage for voice and basic data services (for example, messaging, browsing, photos and video clips) at locations where people live, work and play, whether outdoors or indoors.
This approach would safeguard existing investments as it would prolong the life of current architectures and infrastructures. It is also an important enabler for Net Zero ambitions.
“Light-Touch Regulation” as enabler for ubiquitous coverage
As well as the proposed novel 6G concept from a technology perspective, one needs a commercial framework which encourages multi-operator access for users. International Roaming is a good example where a user typically has access to several networks (if not all) in the visited country even though one of those networks might be the preferred partner of the home network provider. Yet, National Roaming is rare. In their home country, the user is constrained to a single network, sometimes they are even restricted to certain technologies through commercial tariffs/packages or devices (for example, 2G and 3G but not 4G and/or 5G etc).
Whilst we are not proposing draconian regulatory measures which might discourage investment, we think that a more innovative approach with more degrees of freedom in the spectrum licensing conditions could be adopted by Governments and Regulators, encouraging more sharing of spectrum and infrastructure and more in-country (national) roaming; and, yes, some obligations for taking coverage to less profitable geographies and locations, too. With such an approach, one would reduce operators building duplicate coverage focussed on profitable areas/locations whilst leaving other areas/locations with inadequate wireless connectivity. As a result, a given amount of total investment by the operators would go much further towards ubiquitous coverage.
With this technology approach to 6G and a more purposeful direction from the Regulators, we believe that near-ubiquitous wireless coverage is a realistic proposition, even with a lower cost of production.
There is also a significant side benefit of this concept. The Emergency Services of the country would not be constrained to one network provider (as is the case, normally) but instead they would have automatic access to all the networks in the country and use the best network available at the specific location and time where they need it.
We appreciate that this vision is not without its challenges. We will be discussing some of the challenges and potential solutions (such as Semi-Autonomous Devices in network selection) in future blogs. Similarly, changes to spectrum licensing and other terms governing interworking amongst different wireless access services (cellular, WiFi, satellite) would need to be handled carefully, in order to encourage telcos to adopt the new approach on one hand and not to reduce competition in the market on the other.
Nevertheless, we believe the prize of ubiquitous coverage is worth the effort and 6G is the catalyst for that. Our industry has done a great job in giving mobile communications to the masses over the last 3+ decades. Now, we have an opportunity to excel. Let’s go for it.
If you wish to discuss these proposals with us and help shed light on the art of the possible to get 6G right, then why not get in touch with us here.