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The 6G party

Heads of the world’s largest governments are joining hands and investing in 6G, sans China.

The COVID-19 pandemic has vastly demonstrated the key role of connectivity platforms to sustain economic and societal processes. The starting deployment of 5G in the world will further increase the competitiveness and the resilience of the industry by enabling to digitise and automate business processes in domains as diverse as connected cars, smart factories, healthcare, media production and delivery, public safety, and many more.

In the longer term, the convergence of multiple business process with connectivity platforms as initiated by 5G will further amplify and address domains where performance requirements will not be matched by 5G capabilities. Systems beyond 5G, will hence have to meet new levels of vertical performance requirements not within reach of the foreseeable evolution of 5G systems as currently planned under 3GPP.

6G is the mobile network generation that will help us tackle those challenges. 6G will likely be a self-contained ecosystem of artificial intelligence. It will progressively evolve from being human-centric to being both human- and machine-centric. 6G will bring a near-instant and unrestricted complete wireless connectivity. A new landscape will also emerge for the enterprises, as a result of the convergence that 6G will allow in the fields of connectivity, robotics, cloud and secure and trustworthy commerce. This will radically reshape the way enterprises operate.

6G will bring a new era in which billions of things, humans, and connected vehicles, robots and drones will generate zettabytes of digital information. 6G will be dealing with more challenging applications, e.g. holographic telepresence and immersive communication, and meet far more stringent requirements. The 2030s could be remembered as the start of the age of broad use of personal mobile robotics.

In short, 6G will be one of the basic foundations of human societies of the future. To enable a sustainable progress for society, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, it is crucial that 6G addresses effectively pressing societal needs, while delivering new functionalities. This (r)evolution must be in line with the world’s primary societal values, in terms of e.g. privacy, security, transparency, and inclusiveness. Digital technologies are also becoming a critical and essential means of ensuring countries’ sovereignty.

The convergence of 6G with operation technologies raises the prospect of disassociating the location of manufacturing, industrial equipment, assets, and processes, from the actual location of the human operators. This will introduce unprecedented changes in our way of life as it is likely to redistribute the existing balance between urban and rural areas, potentially redefining the role of cities, by reversing the urbanisation trend. End-user engagement will be increasingly important for a smooth acceptance of 6G. To ensure that it can be inclusive for all people across the world, it needs to be affordable and scalable, with a great coverage everywhere.

Key features of 6G will include intelligent connected management and control functions, programma­bility, integrated sensing and communication, reduction of energy footprint, trustworthy infrastructure, scalability, and affordability.

The 6G architecture should be sufficiently flexible and efficient so as to enable easy integration of everything, i.e., a network of networks, joint communication and sensing, non-terrestrial networks and terrestrial communication, encompassing novel AI-powered enablers as well as local and distributed compute capabilities. The use of AI everywhere in the network, where it can be beneficial, i.e., the “AI everywhere” principle, will be used to enhance network performance and to provide AI-as-a-Service in a federated network. AI and Machine Learning will help to maintain operation cost-effectiveness of envisioned complex 6G services, such as the interaction on human-digital-physical worlds and Internet of Senses, to automate some level of decision-making processes, and to achieve a zero-touch approach.

Several types of foundational technologies will drive the core development of 6G. Expanding network capacity to approach or even to try and go beyond the Shannon’s and Moore’s limits will be required for radio themes. Smart optical transport connectivity will allow the network to be always available, intrinsically secure, green, and with flexible scaling. Advances in photonic integration will pave the way for a raft of new IT and networking devices in which optical, radio frequency, and digital electronic functions, can be combined. Modern security and reliability paradigms (security by design), as well as the application of modern software technology, will guarantee the dependability and trustworthiness of the system. New electronic technologies, components and devices, including processors, memories, analogue, radio frequency, digital access and cross-connect systems and analogue to digital converters antennas, packaging and optical components, will be required. The exploitation of properties from quantum mechanics needs to be explored to understand their potential for unprecedented performance in quantum sensing, communication, security, and computing.

China is aiming to commercialize 6G in 2030. It expects 6G to be deployed on new terahertz (300GHz-3THz) frequencies in addition to existing 5G spectrum. China has a formal national 6G effort underway, led by the Ministry of Science and Technology. Known as the IMT-2030 promotion group, it has 37 universities, research bodies and commercial companies taking part.

The US and Japan have said they will jointly invest USD 4.5 billion in 5G and 6G. However, this new alliance will have trouble challenging the scale of Huawei and ZTE. The USD 4.5 billion investment is no match for Huawei’s USD 15 billion annual commercial research budget. Also, the US and Japan are still way behind in 5G. Japan in particular hasn’t got much 5G scale. However, the significance of this new alliance cannot be undermined, a departure for the telecom sector where, outside China, governments have been content to let industry lead.

Recognizing the importance of telecommunications security and vendor diversity, US President Joe Biden and South Korea President Moon Jae-in have committed to develop a future-oriented partnership by leading innovation to develop open, transparent, and efficient 5G and 6G network architectures using Open-RAN technology.

The EU’s 6G programme has Finland’s Nokia heading the official research into Hexa-X 6G in 2020, The University of Oulu, also in Finland, devoting USD 300 million to the 6G programme, while, in Germany a Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance launched a 6G research project in 2020. Outside the EU, but within Europe, the University of Surrey, UK launched a 6G Innovation Centre in 2020 while Russia’s Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology has announced that it has created a device that could help develop 6G system components.

It signals that the world’s large economies are determined to crash the 6G party!

Tom Marzetta
NYU Wireless, the creator of massive MIMO on what 6G will be

“I joined NYU Wireless four years ago this September, and I never considered myself to be doing anything at that point but 6G research.

I wanted to try to do research to do something ten times better than massive MIMO. So far, massive MIMO is the most spectrally efficient wireless scheme yet devised. And, and to some extent, it uses familiar principles. But it stretches those principles about as far as they can be stretched.

My focus, is not at millimeter wave or terahertz bands, but in the sub-6 GHz bands. These bands will always be, hertz per hertz, the most valuable spectrum. It’s worth noting the results of FCC spectrum auctions over the last year. They had a very large spectrum auction for millimeter wave spectrum. The millimeter wave spectrum sold at about USD 2 or USD 3 per hertz. In January, the FCC sold some a block of spectrum in the 3.7 to 3.8 gigahertz band and that sold for about USD 290 per hertz. Sub-6 bands, that’s always going to be the most valuable spectrum because it can penetrate buildings.

So what will 6G be? What we’re really after is, what is the next level of human-to-human communication going to be? In one sense, 5G didn’t deliver any new level of human-to-human communication, because 4G, and then the early parts of 5G, enabled ubiquitous streaming video. When I started to work at NYU, I started to commute from New Jersey into Brooklyn, every day. And everybody on the subway was streaming video. It’s now commonplace, and I happen to know that 15 or 20 years ago, this was absolutely rejected even at Bell Labs.

But what have we had since then? In other words, 5G comes along, it says, “we’ll give you this sort of service faster and more reliably. And we’ll do things like Internet of Things, and this, that and the other.” But much of this has not, and will not, directly affect the average consumer.

I, and many people, think the next level of human-to-human communication is going to be ubiquitous augmented reality. How could most of us have done our jobs over the last year without high-quality telecommunications and so on? But people are sick of the zoom experience. The next level is obviously augmented reality, and making it good enough so that the other person is effectively in the same room as you. That would be a transformative thing. From a wireless communications perspective, this imposes simply staggering requirements. People talk about sustained AR requiring throughputs per user of 2 gigabits per second, how are you going to do that? Suppose you have 50,000 people in Time Square all wanting AR at the same time? How are you going to give 2 Gbps each to 50,000 people crammed into a quarter square mile? We don’t know how to do that yet.”

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