China pushes forward on 6G, while US still working on 5G

China is barreling ahead on ultrafast wireless technology, quietly hurtling the world’s first 6G test satellite into space while the US is still rolling out 5G at a snail’s pace.

The satellite, called Star Era-12, has frequency bands so high that they have to be tested in space so the signals won’t be lost as easily as in air, the National Science Foundation’s Thyagarajan Nandagopal explained to The Post.

Exactly how fast the bands are isn’t known, but Nandagopal estimates a range of 100 and 500 Gigahertz, or Ghz — 100 times faster than 5G. To understand that speed, compare 5G and 4G cellphones: A 5G model is 100 times faster than a 4G, depending on the carrier.

What 6G will touch covers everything from communications to telemedicine to national security, according to Professor Tommaso Melodia, who heads Northeastern University’s Institute for the Wireless Internet of Things. And along with the technology will come a slew of new products and services that will pour billions of dollars into the global economy, just like 5G brought Uber, Instacart and Netflix.

For example, a 6G iPhone will download a high-def movie in 8 seconds and 1,500 high-res photos in less than a minute. A surgeon in New York can use robotic technology to operate on a patient in California. And a robot will search for a wounded soldier left on the battlefield.

Nandagopal brushed off China’s push, pointing out the NSF “is enabling technologies that will end up defining” 6G in a few years. Melodia, too, doesn’t think the US is late to the tech race, but he does think Americans need to remember how important communications research is.

“My honest impression is that we got excited with other things like artificial intelligence and software advances like the Cloud,” Melodia told The Post. “We took wireless as a given and now realize because of the pandemic that our entire economy depends on communications research. We can’t take it for granted — China hasn’t.”

For NYU global affairs expert Pano Yannakogeorgos, China may not be the winner yet of the 6G game, but it clearly is in the PR war. And the launch makes clear the communist titan wants to be the 6G standard bearer — just like it was for 5G.

The Chinese government laid out a five-year timeline of 5G strategic objectives — and researchers made their deadlines. Today, Yannakogeorgos said, China is 5G king, much like the UK was the world’s first commercial telegraph powerhouse in the 19th century.

“He or she who controls the network controls the world,” he told The Post.

China's 6G experimental satellite was blasted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre in northern China's Shanxi Province.
China’s 6G experimental satellite was blasted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre in northern China’s Shanxi Province.Chine Nouvelle/SIPA/Shutterstock

If China keeps the 6G lead, Yannakogeorgos is worried the US and Europe will take the world backward by forming their own standards. For example, in the days of 3G, an American’s device wouldn’t work abroad because of different standards, and vice versa.

“It would be like taking your laptop to Europe and having to buy an adapter.”

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