Evolving 5G as we Pave a Path Toward 6G

Contributed by Kaniz Mahdi, VP Advanced technologies, VMware.

I’ve previously written of VMware’s participation in the newly formed ATIS NextG Alliance. If you follow the research community around wireless technologies, you’ll note that this is just one of several industry organizations focused on upcoming wireless generations—commonly referred to as “Beyond 5G” (B5G). Already, we see B5G/6G initiatives launching from 3GPP, IEEE, ITU, the 6G Flagship Program in Europe, China’s new 6G satellite program, and several others. All of which raises the question: If we’re still in early days of deploying 5G, why is there already so much activity around what comes next? Let’s take a closer look.

Evolution of the Next Big G

Let’s start by looking at it from a pure wireless generation evolution perspective. Tradition holds that every generation introduces a new service concept. To support the new concepts, groundwork is laid for aligned evolution of radio and other essential elements. It isn’t until the next generation comes along that the work needed for full-scale adoption is completed. This pattern can be traced all the way back — cellular telephony introduced in 1G saw mass adoption in 2G, packet data was introduced in 3G, but full benefits weren’t reaped until Long Term Evolution of the architecture with 4G.

Another notable observation here is that mass adoption of almost every new wireless service introduced by 3GPP in the past has been led by an over the top phenomenon. Apple App Store being the 3G surprise, and the rise of the hyper scale cloud in early 2000s created a demand side pull for massive broadband. In turn, this enabled mass dissemination of compute which gave rise to services like uber – unthinkable without this powerful duo at play.

5G is no different – only a bit broader in its original ambition. The previous generations have been focused on evolution of wireless systems for higher performance and bandwidth, improving the quality of experience for human centric communications and content consumption and entertainment. 5G is the first generation of wireless designed for highly interactive collaboration amongst ‘smart things’, be it humans, machines, cyber-physical systems or any combination of the above. Antiquated technologies underpinning currently prevalent Packet Data Networks (including the wireless networks) designed and optimized for remote human consumption are seriously challenged with the new service characteristics vectors being shaped with machine centric communication and collaboration.

Hence, a new plan, design and operations paradigm was envisaged for 5G with a few key elements deemed essential to a solid foundation for the unprecedented applications ecosystem anticipated with 5G. We’ve come a long way with implementation of these essential elements, thanks to the leadership from 3GPP global community and telecommunications service provider led efforts (e.g. massive broadband, cloud native 5G and pervasive connectivity) but much remains to be completed for some of the broader elements that sit at the cross section of wireless, networking and cloud.

Below is a rough score card of our progress on these essential 5G elements, in the order of maturity from left to right:



As service providers prepare for their initial 5G deployments, mainly targeting broadband access and New Radio capacity augmentation of LTE for network densification, the research community continues to unravel the more complex challenges. These challenges include areas around network programmability and autonomics which must be addressed before we are able to take a crack at Time Sensitive Communications – the most interesting element of the 5G foundation.

At VMware, we think it’s critical that someone like us—a company that has one foot in the world of service provider networks and the other foot in the cloud—help lead this new chapter of 5G evolution.

 How VMW is shaping the new chapter of 5G evolution toward NextG

A 5G connected world is anticipated to be an ecosystem of interconnected intelligence components, systems and fabrics enabled with fusion of technologies that sit at the intersection of wireless, networking and cloud industries. VMware aims to bridge these somewhat disparate industries for unification of cross-sectional technologies that maximizes the interoperability while maintaining individual differentiation of each for a sustainable win-win for all.

We analyze below, foundational imperatives of this unification for 5G era, paving a path toward 6G:

  1. Virtualize the data center: We need the ability to adapt, federate, and optimize heterogeneous resources that span multiple physical data centers managed by disparate providers, across multiple geographies, as a unified pool of adaptive compute capabilities. 
  2. Virtualize the network: Next, we need to be able to adapt, federate, and optimize heterogeneous networks to enable distributed applications that span multiple providers, across multiple geographies such that the underlying networks become invisible to the application.
  3. Virtualize the edge: We need the ability to adapt, federate, and optimize heterogeneous platforms spanning multiple providers, across multiple geographies to enable a fungible edge that continuously optimizes itself to maintain QOE across vastly interactive, highly mobile, distributed applications.
  4. Virtualize the control: Finally, we need to be able to adapt, federate, and optimize heterogeneous entities contributing to collaborative controls applications that are distributed across multiple intelligence agents that span multiple providers and geographies, ultimately leading to universal autonomy with complete virtualization of control.

We realize that this is a significant undertaking that can only be successful with a strong collaborative effort bringing together best and brightest of all the relevant industries. We are developing a world-class ecosystem to help unravel these challenges in a real-world setting. With the unique combination of our long-standing leadership in virtualization and our deep expertise in service provider and data center networks, VMware is perfectly positioned to drive harmonization across wireless, cloud and networking industries. And, we are already doing it through our participation in cross-functional industry groups like 5G Americas, ATIS NextG Alliance, 5G Open Innovation Lab and many others.


VMware’s Stephen Spellicy spoke at a FutureNet World Virtual Panel in Feb 2021- Watch here!


These NextG imperatives align closely with the major initiatives VMware is pursuing right now. Today, we’re partnering with our key customers to enable edge-to-cloud virtualization underpinned with our multi-cloud 5G edge platform. We’re also building a new generation of network controls and intelligence to lay a solid foundation for the most ambitious goal of tomorrow’s networks: universal autonomy. When the industry comes together to realize universal autonomy, VMware will be right in the thick of it.

Join us in our journey toward 6G by leaving comments on the original blog and following VMware on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Want to know more about what VMware is doing in 5G? Watch this video.

This article was first published on VMware 5G and Telco Cloud  blog pages on January 6, 2021