From The Editor | September 1, 2023

iPhone 15 To Be Launched At Wonderlust – Will Its 6G Capability Be An Upgrade Over 5G?

John Headshot cropped  500 px wide

By John Oncea, Editor


Apple is expected to release the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro at its annual launch event, Wonderlust. The phones will support 6G but is that going to be an improvement over 5G?

As of this writing, Apple is expected to unveil the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro on September 15 at the Steve Jobs Theater inside Apple Park, the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, CA. Rumors are the next generation of the iPhone “will bring significant upgrades including new colors, better battery performance, a switch from Apple’s proprietary lightning connector to the USB-C, faster charging, and highly improved camera capabilities,” according to 9to5Mac. “New iterations of the Apple Watch and Apple Watch Ultra are also expected.”

Beyond that, MacRumors reports Apple plans to add Wi-Fi 6E support – which will allow for faster and more reliable wireless connectivity – to the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max while the standard iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus are expected to stick with regular Wi-Fi 6.

“Wi-Fi 6 operates on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, while Wi-Fi 6E also works over the 6GHz band for increased bandwidth,” writes MacRumors. “Wi-Fi 6E offers faster wireless speeds, lower latency, and less signal interference, so long as a supported device is connected to a Wi-Fi 6E router, which is available from brands like TP-Link, Asus, and Netgear.”

And You May Ask Yourself

So, what does Wi-Fi 6E in the iPhone 15 Pro even mean? Well, the standard is relatively new, and many users may not get much benefit from it just yet, but it’s important, AppleInsider reports.

“The standard arrived in homes via routers starting in 2021 from companies like Linksys and TP-Link. Apple didn't begin supporting Wi-Fi 6E until the M2 processor arrived in June 2022, which is used in current Macs and iPads,” writes AppleInsider. “The iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max (or iPhone 15 Ultra) will use Apple's next-generation A17 processor, which is built on the same process as M2. That means these devices will support Wi-Fi 6E.”

When it comes to providing network connection over a Wi-Fi network, routers rely on different bands. Wi-Fi 6, for instance, offers the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, while Wi-Fi 6E expands on that by introducing a new 6GHz band. Additionally, Wi-Fi 6E provides channels of up to 160MHz, which are particularly useful for streaming content or using VR. With these new bands and channel bandwidths, there will be less congestion on the same network. Furthermore, in environments with many devices, Wi-Fi 6E can provide up to 56 new channels and less interference.

The Inevitable Downside

Simply owning a Wi-Fi 6E product won't suffice; you need to upgrade your router to the new standard as well. However, not many people buy a new router every time a new standard is introduced, so it's unlikely that most users will immediately reap the benefits of this new standard.

“However, Wi-Fi 6E can't guarantee faster speeds just because of device support and a new router,” AppleInsider writes. “The new, faster 6GHz speed only works when the device is close by and isn't cut off by walls or other obstacles. In some cases, especially when discussing a desktop Mac, wired is still the better solution. If your router is placed in a convenient spot in your home, it could mean better speeds, but not always.”

Good News, Bad News

Is the inevitable jump from 5G to 6G going to be worth it? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Samsung, a company with a vested interest in 6G, says the new technology is a winner, according to PhoneArena. “The tech giant spent some time to remind everyone about 6G and the possibilities it carries” at IFA 2023. “Samsung pointed out especially the potential of 6G when combined with the other two hot subjects that have been circling the tech space these days, AI (artificial intelligence) and XR (which envelops augmented, virtual, and mixed reality).”

Samsung said the most notable improvement is a massive increase in speed. The 6th generation of cellular networks also will offer less latency, enabling quick and precise actions over long distances. Moreover, while 5G can support only around 10-11 devices per square kilometer, 6G will be capable of supporting up to 107 devices simultaneously. This means that the connection density will be higher, allowing more people to use the network at the same time.

On the downside, TechRadar is reporting that researchers found worrying vulnerabilities in key 6G technology that could allow hackers to launch two novel types of attack by exploiting weaknesses in programmable metasurfaces – a technology that will become key in the rollout of 6G networks.

“Programmable metasurfaces are electromagnetic surfaces designed to integrate into everyday objects like wallpaper or window glass and aim to optimize communication channels,” writes TechRadar. “This technology could become key to maximizing the potential of 6G in the future. Speeds are expected to be orders of magnitude faster than even some of the best 5G home broadband and wireless networks.”

Researchers at Peking University, the University of Sannio, and Southeast University released a paper noting that metasurfaces also can be exploited to launch active and passive attacks on wireless networks.

“The open nature of wireless communication means that data and signals are essentially out in the open, making the risk of physical level attacks a major concern,” researchers Lianlin Li, Vincenzo Galdi, and Tie Jun Cui told Tech Xplore. “Our project focuses on identifying some potential risks associated with programmable metasurfaces — a key enabling technology in the envisioned 6G landscape.”

In a certain situation, someone could use a metasurface to eavesdrop on wireless exchanges between two devices and cause signal interference. By quickly altering the characteristics of the metasurface, they could also obstruct the communication between a router and its user, resulting in slower data transfer rates.

In the event of an active attack, an attacker may send false data to a user while monitoring their connection. By utilizing metasurfaces, the attacker can increase the speed at which false data is sent while reducing the effectiveness of the legitimate connection. All of this can occur without the attacker being easily detected.

“Continuing our research, we are dedicated to shaping secure 6G networks, taking into account both the benefits and challenges associated with programmable metasurfaces,” Li, Galdi, and Cui said. “Currently, we are focused on developing targeted defenses against physical-layer attacks, by exploiting strategies such as beamforming, cooperative jamming with artificial noise, index modulation, and adaptive modulation.”