Wearables have been around for over a decade, in the consumer market as smart watches and fitness sensors and in industrial setting as tools for specific needs in the production/operation processes.
Due to the need of keeping consumption down (particularly in the consumer market) wearables are seen as adds on to other devices (smartphones in the consumer market), acting as sensors. Communications takes place (usually) via Bluetooth (the use of low energy Bluetooth, BLE, is usually the domain of IoT although it has started to be used in wearable as well) at a frequency of 2.4GHz.
The wearable market is expected to grow significantly (doubling in the US between 2020 and 2027, see graphic, and tripling worldwide from 32.63 B$ in 2019 to over 100 B$ in 2027 at a CAGR of 15.6%) and this growth is likely to fuel the adoption of new technology and the increase of functionality.
Whilst 5G is limited to the mm waves (they are in the range between 30GHz and 300GHz -notice that current deployment of 5G uses basically the same ranges of 4G frequencies, in the 3GH range, so public 5G is not using mm waves, this is now starting to occur in the private 5G deployed in industrial environment), 6G will use (also) sub-mm waves (between 300GHz – 3THz). At these frequency propagation is very limited but this is not an issue for wearables needing to connect with a hub (like a smartphone) just a meter away, or with another wearable nearby in a Body Area Network -BAN-. Currently, BAN are used in hospital environment to connect sensors on patients and are based on the IEEE 802.15.6 standard (a variation of WiFi suitable for low power transmission) operating in the 2.4 GHz band.
The evolution of electronics will make the use of sub-mm waves possible and convenient and thus personalised healthcare is an area where 6G can provide services. This is in synch with the evolution towards proactive and personalised healthcare (actually steamed up by the pandemic and the need to use remote healthcare to off-load the burden of hospital and for almost real-time monitoring of patients at home).
Indeed, healthcare services may be expected to use (and steer the evolution of) wearable and create a fertile market for 6G.
Notice that the 6G will be created at local level by the wearable (or by the hub to which wearables connect), it will not be deployed necessarily by third parties, in other words the wearables will be creating local 6G network, not the other way ‘round.
In addition to healthcare, we can expect wearable screens, first in shape of glasses and in the long (very long) terms in shape of electronic contact lenses (I’ll consider implants in the IoT discussion). This will also stimulate new services, particularly in the area of augmented reality to morph into digital reality.
In the industrial environment we can expect increased use of wearable as way to create a context for the interplay of human and autonomous systems (autonomous robots). One way of seeing them is as massively distributed intelligent sensors network. This is likely another important area for 6G growth.