While 5G communications are still in their initial stages of implementation in the world, China has just put into orbit the first space platform with very high speed 6G technology and a bandwidth capable of transmitting large volumes of data.
The orbital positioning of the pioneering satellite of the sixth generation of mobile telephony has been the peculiar way in which Xi Jinping has congratulated Joe Biden as the new tenant of the White House, while reminding him that Beijing is disputing Washington's dominance of space and control of future communications based on Artificial Intelligence.
Classified by the Chinese authorities as "experimental" and sent into orbit two days ago under the strictest of secrecy, it has been placed at an altitude of some 500 kilometres by a small Long March 6 launcher, which was fired from the Taiyuan cosmodrome in Shanxi province, 500 kilometres from Beijing.
Weighing a mere 71 kilos but packed with the most advanced technology, its purpose is to evaluate from a technical point of view the 6G equipment developed jointly by the Chinese University of Electronic Science and Technology and the Chengdu Guoxing Aerospace Technology and Beijing MinoSpace Technology research centres. The aim is to optimise wireless transmission "in the broad electromagnetic spectrum of the terahertz", according to Professor Lu Chuan, Director of the Institute of Satellite Industry Technology.
The launch of the 6G demonstration satellite represents "a great achievement in the exploration of terahertz space communication technologies", said Xu Yangsheng, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and one of the fathers of the innovative platform. The trials that are due to begin in a few weeks' time are focused on terahertz load testing and checking whether the promised high data transmission speeds with smaller antennas and lower emission output power are being delivered.
On the advice of Chinese scientists, the Beijing authorities want to use 6G to define and build the architecture of the future intelligent cities planned by Xi Jinping for the next decade. But 6G radiation in terahertz is still in full development and the large communications operators are still immersed in their plans to make 5G networks a reality, whose deployment began in 2019 and which they trust will be the most widely used until the 2030 horizon.
When it begins to take its first steps, specialists and analysts foresee that 6G will bring about a real disruptive revolution, with which users will have unbridled access to Artificial Intelligence on a commercial level. By 2035, they envisage that 6G mobile networks based on Artificial Intelligence will be the only ones capable of managing the multitude of data and information in real time required for decision-making.
The sixth generation will be the only one capable of knowing the exact position of a land, sea or air object - and those closest to it - at all times, with a delay of the order of a few milliseconds. The result will be the ability to control vehicles, drones and other connected autonomous systems, advanced robotics and even a wide range of multisensorial communication equipment. Its high capacity to generate ultra-short sub-millimetre pulses with high spatial resolution will be of great application in fields such as medicine, biology, security and defence.
Studies by the world's most prestigious think tanks estimate that it will provide connectivity to surfaces rather than devices, and that in the not too distant future wireless interconnection mechanisms will emerge between the brain and computers by means of cellular implants. However, sixth generation communications technology is still in its early stages.
Located in the frequency band between 100 Gigahertz and 10 Terahertz - between the far infrared and microwaves - it is a submillimetre radiation in which one of its technological niches is graphene, a strategic material of nanometric size, transparent and very flexible, as well as very hard and resistant, which allows components to be miniaturised.
Except in China, where the inhabitants of large cities are heavily involved in the use of mobile phones equipped with 5G technology, operators have difficulty convincing users to jump from 4G to 5G, which offers speeds close to 20 Gigs and supports a higher density of connections in small areas. Meanwhile, the powerful telecommunications industries of China, Russia, the United States and the European Union are already betting on 6G in terahertz, seeing it as the future of wireless communications.
The 6G satellite was not the only one travelling into space inside the Long Range 6 rocket. It was accompanied by a pair of Chinese scientific nanosatellites and was embedded in a mission to place a dozen small high-resolution remote-sensing devices from the Argentine company Satellogic into orbit, the first thing that the Chinese authorities authorised to be broadcast when they announced the successful launch of the Long-Range 6 rocket.
Each of the ten Argentine mills weighs around 40 kilos and has an estimated lifespan of three years. Named Aleph-1 for the Anglo-Saxon world and ÑuSat for the Hispanic world, they are designed to provide commercial Earth observation services, for which they are equipped with cameras to obtain colour and black and white images. Satellogic is not a newcomer to space. It already has 24 satellites in orbit, which together can provide nearly four million square kilometres of images every day, with a resolution of up to 70 centimetres.
In addition to such a volume of observation, it is possible to "revisit the same area up to four times in 24 hours," says Emiliano Kargieman, executive director of the Buenos Aires-based company. When Satellogic signed the contract in January 2019 with China's state-owned Great Wall Launch Services Corporation, the agreement provided for an exclusive mission of 13 satellites to go into orbit, which in the space world is known as a "dedicated" space flight.
But the Beijing authorities wanted to take advantage of the take-off from Taiyuan to demonstrate the capabilities of its industry and research centres in developing 6G, a cutting-edge technological sphere in direct competition with the major US industrial corporations. The result was the landing of three of Argentina's 13 satellites to send the 6G demonstrator into orbit, camouflaged between two other Chinese satellites.