Even though the rollout of 5G networks around the country has barely begun, it is imperative that policymakers in free-market democracies begin thinking about the framework for 6G. That is the recommendation of experts participating in a Center for Strategic & International Studies webcast Jan. 13 regarding “Policy Issues for Telecom Transformation.”
In a prerecorded video, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, said that he’s watched wireless communications evolve from its introduction through 3G, then 4G, and now 5G.
“The benefits haven’t flowed to all Americans equally,” Doyle said. “For Congress and other policymakers to be best positioned [to address] 6G technology now,” the Federal Communications Commission should create a 6G Task Force on its use, strengths, and limitations, and include cybersecurity in its scope. He said he introduced H.R. 4045, the FUTURE Networks Act, to require such a task force, and include a wide range of stakeholders from all levels of government, including tribal governments, trusted companies and public interest groups. The House of Representatives passed the bill Dec. 1, 2021, and forwarded it to the Senate for consideration.
The challenge, of course, is that no one knows what 6G will require, or what it will enable.
“Nobody knows yet what 6G is,” said panelist Danielle Kriz, Senior Director, Global Policy, Palo Alto Networks. “It could be more automation. [But] we need security to keep up with it.”
Sheryl Genco, Vice President of the Advanced Technology Group with Ericsson, and a former director of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Institute for Telecommunications Sciences, noted that 5G “is a different animal than 4G … By 2030, we’ll be shaped by 5G for 10 years. There’s new needs and services that we’re going to have by 2030.”
Genco believes that 6G will be “a place where cyber and physical blend together … Limitless connectivity and new compute fabric [will] all be formed in this 6G era. We have to find a way, as a country and an industry, to help government policies.”
Clete Johnson said one “very big picture issue” is the ongoing struggle for the future between free-market democracies and autocracies. He considers the regulation of spectrum use relevant to that issue.
“What 5G is doing through much faster speeds and lower latency is to enable as much as a hundred times more devices to operate,” Johnson said. “It’s also going to create orders of magnitude more data … [6G] will have even higher orders of magnitude lower latency and advances in speeds, with augmented reality, virtual reality, through eyeglasses where your eyes act as video recorders.”
The conflict between the two worldviews is because “free-market democracies want to harness these innovations in order to empower [their citizens], to advance and make life better from the standpoint of our values, whereas authoritarian governments are using those advances, particularly AI-driven data analytics, to maintain more control of individuals and businesses … That’s the big question of the future – does this technology allow us to empower ourselves or for us” to be controlled, he said.
This ties into the technological challenge – who will control spectrum allocation, Johnson said. He cited the current brouhaha between the Federal Aviation Administration and 5G purveyors as an example.
“There’s a big above-the-fold issue about the FAA’s concern about 5G use of C-band spectrum, [but] there’s no indication in the 40 countries that operate in C-band that such an alarming outcome might happen,” he said. “This is something [the Federal Communications Commission and NTIA] have worked on over the past number of years … The reason this is important in the 5G, and especially the 6G, world is the efficient use of spectrum … Otherwise every regulator in the federal government, even state governments, will make their own ‘harmful interference’ determinations.”
Robert Blair, Senior Director, 5G and External Affairs, Microsoft, said this is an area that Congress should look at, perhaps reorganizing and reauthorizing the Commerce Department as the federal authority.
“The Commerce Department has the elements, the expertise, the authorities and new authorities to be able to handle some of the big issues of competition,” he said. “They currently don’t have the personnel or authorities to do it, but neither does anyone else.”