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6G does not exist, yet it is already here! – XII

A variety of ideas have been floating around on the possible evolution of smartphones, from becoming (literally) transparent to thin and flexible to the point of folding or rolling up, from being embedded in a wearable to become embedded in the body. Image credit: NewSoftwaresNet


6G will reach the peak of hype by 2030 and will become a widespread reality by 2035 if past experience is of any indication. By 2030 we should have the iPhone 22 and Galaxy S30, shouldn’t we?

Well, had you asked me some 10 years ago if by 2030 we will still have a cellphone I would have said no, that thin brick will no longer be part of our daily life, replaced by wearable and embedded connectivity.

I was wrong. The cellphone has already disappeared, possibly starting to fade away 5 years ago and now it is completely gone. Since the iPhone 5 (and related Galaxy) the launch events have been focussing on several characteristics, never mentioning the aspect that the new phone was indeed a “phone”, able to make call. That part has simply faded away. This year  launch was an exception since there was the 5G to use as a marketing lever (according to Shelley Palmer at the moment 5G is 95% marketing hype and 5% marketing hype). Even then the “call” feature was completely neglected focussing on the possibility of downloading a movie on the go in just a couple of seconds (why you may want to do that remains a mystery…).

We can expect that as the 5G hype fades away the future products launch will forget again about the “communications” aspects of the phone.

There have been in the past decade many suggestions from designers and futurists on the evolution of the smartphone, the former imagining the use of smart materials making possible different forms factors (like transparent objects -cristalline batteries may indeed support transparency-, or very thin, foldable, rollable devices…) the latter thinking of the future phone as embedded in wearable and eventually in the body with no need for a physical interface a voice on one side and smart glasses on the other would provide all the I/O functionality required.

Whilst the former may become reality I doubt about the latter, not because of technology shortcoming but because of the need to “sell” some physical object to the market (to make money).

So I would bet that in the next decade we will still be buying some sort of smartphone that will operate as a gateway to a variety of interfaces and as a platform to software and data (both personal and global data). It will will play the role of an authentication device, of a gateway to the body network and a network node/gateway to local and global networks. But it will remain a physical object with a design that will “sell” it over and over.

The role of orchestrator/network node/gateway to the body network and to the local network will be based on the 6G and on the intelligence that goes along with it.

Most likely the smartphone will keep increasing its “capability” in term of:

  • processing power – it is reasonable to expect at least an 13 times increase by 2030 and 50 times increase by 2050;
  • storage capacity: low end models may have 1 TB, high end 10 TB capacity;
  • autonomy: most likely the issue of autonomy will be less crucial as wireless charging will be the norm and there will be plenty of wireless chargers in the ambient space so that the smartphone will be recharging all day long;
  • Display: although a screen will likely remain an integral part of the phone for marketing purposes, the smartphone will make use and coordinate the display on a variety of ambient (like car windshield, walls, table tops, …) and “body” screens (like smart glasses, wearable, and -much-further down the lane embedded displays);
  • intelligence: AI will be embedded in the smartphone and will cooperate with Intelligence providers (we are starting to see the first example with Google and Facebook). Personal Digital Twins will be hosted on the smartphone as well as in the cyberspace;
  • Augmented reality will be managed in the smartphone (intelligence) also mediated by the Personal Digital Twin;
  • Virtual Reality will also be orchestrated by the smartphone, and delivered through specific devices:
  • orchestration: the smartphone will create communications environments connecting the cyberspace to the physical space, under the mediation of the Personal Digital Twins and Ambient Digital Twins.

Whether you want to consider this a smartphone or not it is probably a matter of name. As a matter of fact the name doesn’t fit well with the present smartphone if you think at the way we are using it. Most of the time is not for making nor receiving calls, we can make calls from our car and from our computer, yet we don’t call them “phones”. It is a personal computer that can, among many other things, make and receive calls. It will be even more so in the future. The key property of the future smartphone will be its personal relation with me (you), much more of a personal extension of myself and an augmenter of my capabilities. In this sense 6G will support services that extend my capabilities, from talking and understanding different languages to navigating new and complex problem spaces, thanks to artificial intelligence and seamless communications with my senses (and brain).

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.