US ‘unlikely’ to leapfrog in 6G race
Huawei confirms early-stage investment in futuristic technology
Published: May 31, 2020 07:43 PM

With research being carried out in basic theories and 6G spectrum tests starting, China is positioned to translate its edge in 5G into a head start in the ascending global race for the next generation of ultrafast wireless technology. (See story on Page S4-5)

A US leapfrog from 5G to 6G, the futuristic telecommunication technologies, to deny China's lead in 5G is probably just wishful thinking, Chinese industry experts said on Sunday, after a top executive from Huawei Technologies confirmed the company's early-stage investment in 6G by pointing to the use of millimeter waves.

Discussions of 6G, and American companies' role in it, have been on the rise in the US, after US President Donald Trump's tweet on 6G in February 2019. There is an implicit wish that the US, though slow in the 5G race, could take a lead in 6G development. 

However, Chinese experts said reality may unfold differently. Also, 6G is believed to yield a stronger performance than 5G in terms of bandwidth, latency and connections.

Huawei said it has started research on 6G, and relevant applications are expected to emerge around 2030.

"With the judgment that 6G will use millimeter waves, Huawei is now at the stage of exploring use scenarios and technologies," Yang Tao, vice president of Huawei's China carrier business unit, said in a recent interview with domestic news site

Yang's comments come as a number of other Chinese telecommunication companies have revealed their 6G research and development, while US industry circles have called for boosting competition in the field.

Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun recently said that his company is making 6G research plans and would conduct research on 6G devices, though Xiaomi is not likely to expand into making commercial 6G equipment.

On May 17, domestic telecom equipment manufacturer ZTE agreed with major carrier China Unicom to jointly review 6G prospects and technology trends, and carry out research on key technology and cooperation on standards.

Ma Jihua, a veteran industry analyst, told the Global Times on Sunday that the repeated attacks by the US on Huawei are clear signs that China could not afford to lose its race in 6G.

"The generational progress of telecommunication technologies is based on advancement of technologies, application of technologies and scales of application," Ma said. "Given the concept that 6G will morph out of 5G, it would be practically impossible for the US to leapfrog China in 6G."

"The only scenario under which China is superseded by another country is that the technology roadmap advocated by its manufacturers, operators, service providers and researchers is marginalized and has no market," Ma said. "This is not likely to happen with the existing Chinese lead in the field."

China's 5G subscribers stood at 50 million as of March, with 198,000 5G base stations rolled out, making the country the world's largest 5G market, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

The US' repeated crackdowns on Huawei also hold important lessons -- that China cannot afford to lose the 6G race, which is why companies are simultaneously researching 6G while rolling out 5G, experts said.  

Xiang Ligang, a veteran industry analyst, gave a roadmap of 6G development in China. There will be visions of 6G by 2023, technological standards will be set by 2026, the launch of relevant technology will take place by 2028 and preliminary commercial use of the network will begin by 2030.

Huawei said that 6G will be mainly used in sectors including the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles and smart factories.

Xiang told the Global Times on Sunday that the US crackdown on Huawei will not delay the company's research and development into the futuristic 6G technology.

"Huawei's researchers are collecting peers' information, such as what are the shortcomings of 5G networks, what consumers can do with 6G, and what 5G technologies can be adopted in the R&D process of 6G technology," Xiang said.

China launched a concept study of potential 6G technologies in 2018, with R&D planned to start in 2020, according to the MIIT.