Japan eyes 6G as a way of making up lost ground

via Flickr © Luca Sartoni (CC BY-SA 2.0)

via Flickr © Luca Sartoni (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • Government to start work next week on drawing up next-gen mobile strategy
  • Ambitious plan is to get 6G up and running in Japan from 2030
  • With the Olympics on the way, Japan is under pressure to show it is still a tech leader

Japan has begun work on devising a 6G strategy with a view to rolling it out from 2030, as it looks to make up for its slow start in 5G.

Nobody knows exactly what 'it' is, only that it will be even faster, more responsive and energy efficient than 5G.

In a nutshell, and, it must be said, at a very, very basic level, one can surmise that over the next decade, researchers – in all likelihood aided by AI this time round – will come up with new and improved antennas, modulation techniques, processors, modems, software, and so-on and so forth. When combined, these will offer a large enough performance increase that they can legitimately be pitched as a new generation of mobile technology. And there we have it: 6G. Easy.

It goes without saying that the reality is a lot more complicated, which is why Japan wants to get started now.

The Ministry for Internal Affairs and Communications announced this week that it will host a "Beyond 5G Promotion Strategy Roundtable" next Monday, to discuss what society in the 2030s should expect from telecommunications infrastructure.

"As discussions on Beyond 5G are being started in other countries, Japan will be deeply involved in the international standard formulation process," the Ministry said. "To this end, it is necessary to start early on efforts to formulate a comprehensive strategy for Beyond 5G based on the needs and technological progress at the time of its introduction."

It probably hasn't been lost on anyone that one of those other countries is China. And, putting it diplomatically, Japan and China don't like each other.

Think that's a bit controversial? Puttling history to one side and sticking with the present day, the 2018 Japan-China joint opinion survey, carried out by non-profit think-tank The Genron NPO, found that 86.3 percent of the Japanese public hold unfavourable opinions about China. Meanwhile 56.1 percent of the Chinese public hold unfavourable opinions about Japan. Believe it or not, that actually represents an improvement on 2017.

In November last year, China established two offices tasked with developing 6G. One consists of government agencies responsible for drawing up relevant policies. The other boasts 37 experts from colleges, research institutes and enterprises, who will advise the aforementioned officials.

So, it's little wonder then that Japan is keen to get going on 6G.

5G laggard

Also up for discussion next Monday is what technology, policies and environment is required to ensure a smooth introduction of 6G, and to improve the "international competitiveness of Japan."

Indeed, Japan's international competitiveness has been a little lacking when it comes to 5G. Deployments are underway on almost every continent, led by South Korea, Switzerland and the US. Operators in the UK have even launched 5G. China finally joined the party in late October 2019. Meanwhile, Japanese operators expect to commercially launch 5G this year.

With Japan hosting this summer's Olympics, all eyes will be on what was once considered the world's most technologically advanced economy. The pressure will be on NTT DoCoMo, KDDI and Softbank to get their 5G networks up and running – at the very least at Olympic venues – in time for the big show. As for any showcase services, that remains to be seen.

With this in mind, it stands to reason that Japan wants to get a head start on the next generation of mobile technology.

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