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6G-Research, innovation, standardization through collaboration and cooperation

Nearly five decades of proliferation of mobile technologies, starting in the early eighties, with each decade attributed to transition to the next generation, has given rise to expectations that are beyond human comprehension.

Building upon the successes and advances of previous mobile generations, 6G technologies will usher in a new era, which promises to revolutionize the connectivity landscape worldwide and is being hailed as the all-pervasive, immersive, intelligent communication network, connecting every aspect of human society, machines, things, virtually everything, everywhere.

6G will be responsible for providing ultra-high speed data rates, ultra-low-latency communication, integration of artificial intelligence (AI), reduction in energy footprint, trustworthy infrastructure, scalability, and affordability. In such a scenario, harmonized research and standards development will be the most critical to ensure the development and deployment of 3GPP-based 6G across the globe, and is going to be one of the key criteria to ensure a sustainable and affordable 6G network available everywhere, to everyone.

6G is currently in the vision and research phase, and its standardization work is expected to be completed by 2025 with its commercialization around 2030.

Standardization for 6G will happen within 3GPP, the global standards partnership project, which has been developing protocols and standards for its earlier generation of mobile telecommunications. Currently, work for 3GPP 5G –Advanced, through its release 18, is in progress. Studies within 3GPP will happen during the release 20 period, and the first set of 6G standards specification are expected to be available around 2028-29.

The European Union (EU), realizing the potential of 6G technologies to bring about widespread benefits, lead the development of new technologies, providing full support to 6G research, innovation, and standardization.

EU established its European Smart Networks and Services Joint Undertaking (SNS JU) in 2021, funded jointly by the EU and the industry, with a specific purpose to build the research innovation (R&I) capabilities for the 6G systems, while leading the markets for 5G infrastructure as a basis for the digital and green transformation in Europe. The SNS JU provides financial support research and innovation (R&I) grants through open and competitive calls to foster Europe’s 6G technology sovereignty, as well as boosting 5G deployment. The SNS JU recently adopted its third R&I work program for 2024 to advance 6G research in Europe, earmarking €129 million in public funding for collaborative projects to advance 6G systems and prepare for its standardization activities.

6G Smart Networks and Services Industry Association (6G-IA) was established by the European industry to work in partnership with the European Commission through SNS JU projects. It represents the voice of European industry and research actors on 6G, bringing together different stakeholders of the ecosystem – operators, manufacturers, academics, small and medium-sized enterprises, and ICT associations.

The European Commission also launched the creation of Hexa-X, a research initiative to develop the foundation of 6G technology, and contribute through industry consensus, leading to 6G. 6G vision was jointly defined by the 25 participants of Hexa-X. Hexa-X focused on architecture for B5G/6G networks, providing vision for beyond 5G/6G with detailed mapping of use cases and requirements to 6G state-of-the-art, spectrum aspects, results on sustainability achieving Hexa-X targets, as well as on the security guidelines and security architecture. The Commission awarded the Hexa-X-II project funding as part of the SNS JU, and It will expand the previous Hexa-X partner list to 44 organizations, tasked with creating the pre-standardized platform and system view that will form the basis for many inputs into future 6G standardization. The Hexa-X-II Alliance in its deliverables provided a comprehensive guide to the architecture enablers, essential for the next generation of networks. The recent work package takes this one step further, with more concrete concepts and analysis of the enablers.

The Indian government envisages India as a front-line contributor in design, development, and deployment of 6G technology by 2030. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) under the Ministry of Communication, Government of India, constituted a Technology Innovation Group on 6G (TIG-6G) in November 2021. Six task forces were created under this TIG-6G on various aspects of emerging telecom technologies and platforms for the next decade. Based on the reports of these six task forces, a Bharat 6G Vision Document was prepared by the TIG-6G and released in March 2023 by the Prime Minister of India.

Further, DoT launched Bharat 6G Alliance (B6GA), a collaborative platform consisting of public and private companies, academia, research institutions, and standards development organizations. B6GA will strengthen the Indian participation in the 3GPP/ITU and forge coalitions and synergies with other 6G global alliances, fostering international collaboration and knowledge exchange. As per European Parliament briefing on The Path to 6G, India has already secured around 200 patents on 6G technology through industrial and academic collaboration with the support of the Department of Telecommunications.

The 3GPP, which was established with the very purpose of ensuring that the requirements of interoperability, affordability, security are met on a global platform, the evolution path of the global system for mobile communications (GSM) called 2G to now 5G and beyond by 3GPP and its adoption worldwide is one of the key and proven examples of harmonization of standards on global level. Similar efforts are needed by 3GPP stakeholders to ensure 6G research and standards development are carried forward systematically to enable seamless connectivity on a global scale, which also means that there is a greater need for the exchange of expertise and best practices, use cases development, harmonization of standards, and close cooperation for the completion of 6G standardization and deliverables timely.

International collaboration is key for achieving a globally accepted 6G standards. Under the EU-India Trade and Technology Council, collaboration on 5G/6G and other related emerging technologies have been identified as part of the digital dialogue and partnership. With this and the coming together of Bharat 6G Alliance and 6G Smart Networks and Services Industry Association (6G-IA) will further the momentum and cooperation between India and Europe on standards and research and development activities in 6G technologies.

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