6G's Lofty Aims

The pace of technology in the wireless industry is relentless. The deployment of 5G networks is still in its early stages, yet the development of 6G technology is already underway. And this development may be further along than you might think.

6G will not begin to emerge until about 2030. Nevertheless, since 2018, the University of Oulu in Finland has hosted a 6G Flagship program focused on defining and developing the fundamental technology needed to enable 6G. The program is supported by the Academy of Finland in collaboration with several organizations, including Keysight, which joined as a co-creator member last year.

Standards for 6G are still years away. And while the technology is still largely undefined, the vision for 6G is to support a set of new use-models perhaps best defined by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU):

  1. Holographic type communications
  2. Tactile internet for remote operations
  3. Intelligent operation network
  4. Network and computing convergence
  5. Digital twin
  6. Space-terrestrial integrated network
  7. Industrial IoT with cloudification

Like 5G, the user-centric vision of the next generation demands significant improvements in key performance indicators (KPIs) of wireless networks. Among the many demands will be to offer a 100-fold increase in data speeds compared with 5G, perhaps as high as 1 terabit per second (Tbps).

To attain such dizzying speeds, 6G will require new paradigms for radio transceiver architecture and computing. It will rely on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning for both link and system-level solutions. It will utilize spectrum above even today’s 5G Frequency Range 2 (FR2) millimeter-wave spectrum starting at greater than 120 GHz and going perhaps as high as 1 terahertz (1 THz or 1,000,000 MHz).

Data speeds of 1 Tbps may be difficult to conceptualize at a time when most people have still not experienced 5G, which promises a user-experienced sustained data rate as high as 1 gigabit per second. But the dramatic speed increase of 6G technology combined with improvements across many other KPI’s is expected to enable use cases beyond 5G across every aspect of society.

Notably, the 6G Flagship program envisions 6G as more than just a way to move data around faster. At the organization's first 6G Wireless Summit last year, participants adopted "Ubiquitous Wireless Intelligence" as a vision for 6G, characterizing the capability to deliver "context-aware smart services and applications for human and non-human users" as core to the development of the technology. One section of 6G Flagship's first white paper on 6G technology, "Key Drivers and Research Challenges for 6G Ubiquitous Wireless Intelligence," is devoted to examining the role that 6G technology can play not just in increasing connectivity and productivity, but in aiding humanity.

In beginning to define and research 6G technology, 6G Flagship has looked beyond the current 5G key performance indicators to consider a host of megatrends that will be increasingly relevant in coming years, including population growth, urbanization, and climate change. The program places particular focus on the question of how 6G technology can help to achieve the United Nations sustainable development goals, a set of 17 goals adopted by the UN in 2015 focused on eliminating poverty and hunger, promoting health, reducing inequality, and other meaningful societal objectives by 2030.

At this year's virtual 6G Wireless Summit 2020, held last month, participants were even more optimistic and bold about 6G's potential to respond to societal challenges. Participants also articulated their 6G visions and agreed to focus research on enabling technologies and 6G requirement specifications as part of the ITU process.

In an interview with RCR Wireless earlier this month, Matti Latva-aho, academy professor and director of 6G Flagship, said the program is building a broad 6G ecosystem to look at how 6G can help with meeting the United Nations sustainable development goals. In the interview, which is available here, Latva-aho also describes use cases for 6G technology and discusses the timeline of 6G's arrival.

Keysight's involvement with the 6G Flagship is part of our broader commitment to serving the needs of our customers by taking an early leadership role in the development of new technologies. In 5G, Keysight's early collaborations with industry consortia and market leaders helped to accelerate customers' product development and commercialization. Just as 5G did, 6G represents a huge opportunity for Keysight in both business and technology. So we are thrilled to be involved with the creation of another generation of wireless communications technology.

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