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The 6G war is brewing between US, China but who will win it?

Shubham Verma     February 10, 2021

If you live in India and have a smartphone, you are most likely to have never experienced 5G. That is because it is not available for the masses yet. Much like India, there are several scores of nations where 5G is either not available or under development for the general public. But away from this disparity, there is a war brewing between two powerful countries over 6G. The futuristic, next-generation telecommunications technology lives on papers right now but that has not stopped the United States and China from engaging in the geopolitical battle that will give the world its winner for 6G deployment.

The high-stakes programme underway in the US and China will need both countries to direct their resources into making this an immensely significant war. The first country to patent and develop 6G technologies will win -- something that is being perceived will allow the nation to spearhead the next industrial revolution. 6G is going to be at least 100 times more advanced than what the 5G can offer at its peak. And developing 6G will take no less than 10 years, give or take, because the kind of technology it will inherit is what you see in science fiction movies, such as real-time holograms, flying cars with advanced telecommunication mechanisms, and cloud-based neural minds.

Even though these efforts look premature at best, and desperate at worst, both the US and China are vying for the top spot in what will be the world's next wireless communications system. And the biggest reason is the rivalry that the two nations have had for ages now. Over time, this fight will intensify into what could seem like the next cold war, then between the US and China. "This endeavour is so important that it's become an arms race to some extent," Peter Vetter, head of access and devices at Nokia Oyj's research arm Bell Labs, told BloombergQuint. "It will require an army of researchers on it to remain competitive."

Under Trump's reign, the US snubbed China in all possible ways. From banning important companies such as Huawei and ZTE to threatening suspension of business with Chinese companies, America's erstwhile president had chalked out a plan to defeat China in the technological hustle. In fact, Trump, in 2019, sent out a tweet saying that he wants 6G to be rolled out in the US "as soon as possible." Although Trump's desires were taken rather humorously, the US government was as serious as Trump was in his tweet about beating China in the 6G war. But China never backed down.

Despite several blockades and business moratoriums placed on them, Chinese companies have a major say in the market for network equipment. For instance, Huawei has been a major supplier for 5G equipment to most countries, thanks to its aggressive pricing scheme. And only after the US put a ban on the company, some other nations, including India, followed the suit citing national security-centric reasons. And the fact that Huawei is still thriving does not go well with the US. Much like how it almost sabotaged ZTE's business in the US after the Commerce Department banned it for around three months in 2018, the States wants to show it still has the power to derail China's 6G plans.

The US has already its plans set in motion, even though they are nothing more than being in theory right now. The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions, a US-based telecom standards organisation popularly called ATIS, launched the Next G Alliance back in October to bring "North American leadership in 6G." This alliance includes members such as Apple, AT&T, Qualcomm, Google, and Samsung. Huawei, which is in the frontier of 5G push globally, was left out. But China is leveraging this situation to show how powerful it can become.

In November, China launched a satellite to test airwaves for 6G transmission while Huawei opened a 6G research and development centre in Canada, the BloombergQuint report said citing Canadian media. It is not, however, clear how the North American leadership in 6G deployment will turn out to be considering Huawei's investments in Canada, which is the second most important country in the continent. Another telecommunications behemoth ZTE Corp. has partnered with China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd. to work on 6G development.

For now, the US and China are involved in a muscle show where 6G is at the centre. Although it will take more than 10 years for 6G to properly materialise and gain some potential for telecom and device-manufacturing companies to gain profits, the two nations are likely not making empty claims. But the biggest question is, who will be the winner of this 6G race?


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