Shaping the future of 6G

| Report

The telecommunications industry’s investments in disruptive wireless technologies over the past few decades have radically reshaped people’s daily lives, enabled the creation of massive new businesses, and transformed entire industries. Yet even as each new wireless generation has introduced new services, lowered costs, and improved performance, telcos have increasingly struggled to benefit from the unprecedented value creation (Exhibit 1).


For mobile network operators, spending growth has far outpaced revenue growth since the advent of 4G technology.

The next-generation mobile standard, 6G, offers telcos the opportunity to change the status quo and revitalize the industry. If developed thoughtfully, 6G has the potential to attract sufficient cross-sector investment, drive innovation, grow adoption, and spark future waves of disruptive technologies. Most crucially, it could drive new value on top of the connectivity layer—value that telcos can finally enjoy.

To reap these potential rewards from 6G, the telecom industry needs to overcome the headwinds created by previous generations of wireless telecommunications standards, especially those resulting from 5G. Expectations for 6G vary widely, with lingering skepticism regarding the challenges and costs of the 5G rollout weighing on its prospects. These attitudes raise the possibility that 6G could become an afterthought rather than the next great technology driver of innovation.

This report examines how that fate can best be avoided and raises the question of what 6G should look like to create the necessary momentum in the development and standard-setting phase. Our findings, based on our own experience in the market, a series of expert interviews, and proprietary research, highlight the need for a paradigm shift toward a collaborative approach to innovation and investment with companies outside the telecom industry, a revised set of KPIs to guide the R&D that will drive 6G, and a broad vision that embraces all of the widely divergent expectations for 6G.

In particular, to lay a foundation for future 6G success, operators can take action today in five key areas:

  1. Shift focus to customer (and telco) value creation. Telcos should ensure that 6G does not become a more-of-the-same technology that only provides higher peak speeds, lower latency, and higher device density. Instead, the R&D focus needs to shift to addressing the operational issues mobile network operators (MNOs) face and the issues hindering enterprises from scaling the use of advanced connectivity in their operations.
  2. Work toward multicapability platforms. Expanding the capabilities of mobile networks beyond just connectivity to, for example, enable MNOs to sell data generated through sensing has the potential to improve the economics of a 6G investment by unlocking new revenue streams.
  3. Expand the roster of network investors. Wireless connectivity will become an even more integral part of societies and the operations of nontelecom companies once 6G is deployed. This could bring about partnerships and closer alignment, ultimately spreading capital expenditure and value accrual more evenly across telco providers and the industries that operate atop their infrastructure.
  4. Make smart investments in digital infrastructure. Accelerating xRAN rollout,1Telecom networks: Tracking the coming xRAN revolution,” McKinsey, February 24, 2023. upgrading fiber in the backhaul and fronthaul, and investing in green energy are all examples of investments in digital infrastructure that will help support future capital expenses associated with 6G.
  5. Get the right talent mix. New network technologies require new competencies and skills. Building up the talent for 6G now will help ensure that operators can capitalize on new value-creation opportunities.

This type of approach can put the industry on a solid footing for the 6G future and help the next-generation technology realize its full potential.

To read the full report on “Shaping the future of 6G” download the PDF.

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