On November 6, China successfully launched a Long March 6 rocket and sent a payload of 13 satellites into orbit. Among them was what has been described as “the world’s first 6G satellite”, according to BBC. The problem? The rest of the world is still several years away from agreeing what 6G will even be.
5G—what is considered the fifth, and most recent generation of cellular broadband networks—is still in its infancy. True 5G networks operate in millimeter-wave frequencies between 30 and 300 Gigahertz, which are 10 to 100 times higher frequency than previous 4G cellular network. (Some cell phone providers cheat, however, by claiming the upper end of the 4G spectrum as 5G).
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The definition of these cellular generations are defined by a global partnership known as 3GPP, which has yet to clearly define 6G. Given the history of the never-ending march of technology, it’s inevitable that 5G will be replaced by a new network in the future. It just isn’t clear what 6G will be.
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The satellite, known as Tianyan-5, is a remote-sensing satellite jointly developed by the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, Chengdu Guoxing Aerospace Technology, and Beijing Weina Xingkong Technology. In addition to Earth observations, the satellite will test a high-frequency terahertz communication payload that could send data at speeds several times faster than 5G.
This ultralight device is packed with features, many which don’t rely on connecting it to your phone.
As cellular networks become increasingly congested, and the demand for faster speeds and lower latency continues to grow, cellular providers are looking at higher bandwidths for the next generation of cellular technology.
Terahertz waves (THz), which are submillimeter waves sitting between microwave and infrared light on the electromagnetic spectrum, have been used to achieve data rates greater than 100 Gbps. Unfortunately, THz waves share an Achilles’ Heel with the millimeter waves used in 5G. Water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere is a strong absorber of terahertz radiation, limiting the range of THz applications. The same issue continues to slow the widespread development of 5G, and will likely hinder the rollout of 6G if it uses THz waves.
The new technology may also stoke similar fears faced by the rollout of 5G. The raising of 5G towers in cities caused conspiracy theories to flourish. Without any evidence, people have falsely linked the COVID-19 pandemic to 5G, which may have motivated residents of the U.K. to burn down nearly 80 cell phone towers in recent months.
Meanwhile, astronomers threatened to sue SpaceX for its Starlink constellation of communication satellites for jeopardizing the future of ground-based astronomy observations. Observatories already go to great lengths to avoid light pollution from the lights of cities and radio waves from cell towers. A blanket of communication satellites orbiting earth has the potential to blind observatories looking at certain wavelengths of light.
earlier this week, while observing with decam on the blanco 4 meter telescope at the cerro tololo inter american observatory ctio, a program of nsf’s noirlab, astronomers clara martínez vázquez and cliff johnson noticed something interesting one of their images, the 333 seconds exposure seen here, contained at least 19 streaks that they quickly surmised were due to the second batch of starlink satellites launched last week the gaps in the satellite tracks are due to the gaps between the decam ccd chips in the 22 degree field at the same time, the ctio all sky camera recorded the satellites which were even visible with the unaided eye several frames from that camera can be seen in this timelapse video from ctio links gemini north cloud camera timelapse video of the passage of the starlink satellite cluster over maunakea this sequence was obtained on the night of 12 13 november ctio all sky camera
Tianyan-5 launched aboard the Chinese-built rocket with Earth-observing satellites from the Argentinian company Satellogic. In a sun-synchronous orbit, the satellites will provide high-resolution images covering 1.5 million square miles (4 square kilometers) a day with high enough resolution to discern individual trees in a forest. The satellite could help stop illegal-logging in forests and manage crop disasters. Time will tell whether Tianyan-5 will be the next “G” for cell phones.