While many countries are only starting to roll out 5G, China is already focusing on the development of 6G -- the next-generation mobile technology that will be orders of magnitude faster than its predecessor and a key enabler of the Internet of Things.
Last November, the country successfully launched 13 satellites, including the world's first 6G test satellite, from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi province.
China's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) aims to strengthen the country's economic and technological might and includes a plan to accelerate its nascent 6G industry. Private companies will play a key role: Huawei has a 6G research centre in Canada while Oppo has invested approximately 50 billion yuan (US$7.7 billion) in R&D projects that partly focus on 6G.
China has an imperative to move forward on this as many other private and public sector players are collaborating to research this emerging innovation. Last year, scientists from Singapore's Nanyang Technological University and Japan's Osaka University announced the development of a chip for terahertz (THz) waves, which can be used in 6G.
Outside Asia, a group of companies in the United States -- including Apple, AT&T and Google -- have formed the Next G Alliance. With its massive potential, 6G could become the next technological battleground for geopolitical competition between the US and China.
While we still don't know how fast 6G can be, it is estimated that it could be up to one terahertz, or about 100 times faster than 5G. To put this into perspective, 6G will allow you to download hours of movies in a few seconds, and would dramatically improve the quality of a video call in challenging environments. This will be very useful as the work-from-home trend that gained traction during the Covid pandemic is continuing.
What's more, 6G is expected to have an unprecedentedly low level of latency, which will extend the performance of 5G applications. One clear beneficiary of 6G would be the healthcare sector. Remote surgery and monitoring systems will be facilitated by 6G systems, transforming the nature of the doctor-patient relationship and expanding medical access to more communities.
Automation will also greatly benefit from 6G as the technology will provide more secure and reliable communications thanks to its low-latency networks and high-quality networks with little data loss.
There is still a long way to go for 6G. The International Telecommunication Union is still fine-tuning the standard, and many other technological advancements need to be made. A definitive framework is expected in 2028, with the first commercial 6G applications reaching the market by 2030. However, countries are already investing many resources and bright minds to explore its potential.
For governments and private organisations, the stakes are higher than ever as the first country or organisation to successfully develop 6G technology will leapfrog ahead in the technology race. Thailand needs to tap into this trend to stay ahead.
Suwatchai Songwanich is an executive vice-president with Bangkok Bank. For more columns in this series, please visit www.bangkokbank.com