AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and more form alliance for 6G leadership

5G networks may be in the early days, but a new group made up of some of the biggest names in wireless and tech have joined to form ATIS’s "Next G Alliance" aimed at leading in 6G and beyond.

Specifically focused on North American leadership in 6G, the roster includes the four largest U.S. mobile carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and U.S. Cellular, as well as heavy hitters like Facebook, Microsoft and Qualcomm. Canadian operators Bell Canada and Telus are also founding members, as are Ciena, InterDigital, JMA Wireless, and Telnyx.

Sweden-based Ericsson and Finland-based Nokia, along with South Korea’s Samsung are all part of the Next G Alliance. The goal of the alliance is North American 6G market leadership, spanning the full range from R&D, manufacturing, standardization and market-readiness.

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The infrastructure vendors are the primary 5G suppliers for major U.S. carriers, among other customers, and significant stakeholders in the North American market. Ericsson launched a 5G smart factory in Texas, where it produced U.S.-made commercial 5G base station.

On its website, the Next G Alliance said founding membership is open to companies who “provide products, services, software or applications for the use in U.S. commercial, private or government networks or operate communications networks, multimedia or cloud services in the North American market.” It noted organizations that have been banned from federal contracts by agencies within the U.S. government – as China’s Huawei has been – are not allowed to join as founding members.

More founding members are expected to join the Next G Alliance, with a number of companies still in their business review process, according to ATIS President and CEO Susan Miller. Those announced today are all members of ATIS.

While not the only objective, Miller told FierceWireless that an important goal of the alliance is to influence the U.S. government’s funding priorities and actions that can incentivize the communications technology industry.

“We think that’s part of laying the groundwork for a very vibrant marketplace,” Miller said. 

In terms of whether there was lack of coordination and roadmap for 5G , Miller said the alliance is not a commentary on how 5G launched. Instead, ATIS sees and wants to take advantage of the “opportunity and strength that can come from aligning as an industry as we think about 6G and beyond.”

There has been the so-called “race to 5G” and a continued emphasis on not letting countries, in particular China, outpace on technology advances. Attention over the past year also has been paid to whether there’s a need to foster more homegrown technology as global competition increases. Earlier this year ATIS laid out its own roadmap, calling for action to keep the U.S. ahead on 6G. The Next G Alliance builds on that vision.

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“As countries around the globe progress ambitious 6G research and development initiatives, it is critical that North American industry steps forward to develop a collaborative roadmap to advance its position as a global leader over the next decade,” said Miller in a statement. “The work of the Next G Alliance delivers just that – from research to commercialization – and it is setting the foundation for a vibrant marketplace for North American innovation in future generations of mobile technology.”

The alliance is initially focused on three strategic actions that are broadly laid out as follows:

  • Create a 6G national roadmap to address changing competitive landscape that positions North America as the global leader across those lifecycle phases.
  • Align the North American technology industry on a core set of priorities that will steer leadership for 6G and beyond to influence government policies and funding.
  • Identify and define early steps and strategies to help and lead to rapid commercialization and promote widescale adoption, domestically and abroad.

Many areas that of the 6G lifecycle that the alliance is focused on, such as R&D, manufacturing and so on, were addressed independently for 5G and on different time frames, ATIS VP of Technology & Solutions Mike Nawrocki told Fierce.

“What we saw as a real advantage to the Next G Alliance…is just a much more cohesive approach where all of these different stages of development are related and where we can use outcomes of one stage to really encourage development in the next stage,” Nawrocki said.

Senior Research Director at ABI Research Dimitris Mavrakis put out commentary stating that the Next G Alliance is a significant step to establish the U.S. and Canada in the center of 6G developments.

“North America has lagged behind other regions in 5G, mainly due to the lack of a Tier-1 infrastructure vendor based on the continent, but the Next G alliance aims to create a coalition to make North America a clear leader in 6G,” Mavrakis stated. “This does not necessarily mean that geographical fragmentation is looming in 6G, but rather that companies with U.S. and Canadian interests will have a unified voice and push together for a single goal: to make North America the undisputed leader in 6G and beyond.”

The Next G Alliance expects to hold its first meeting in November. Founding members will appoint a Steering Group and Working Groups will be created and launched in early 2021.

Updated with comments from ATIS Susan Miller and Mike Nawrocki.