With every generation of communications technology, the focus of the network changes. The 2G and 3G eras centered on human-to-human communication through voice and text. 4G heralded a fundamental shift to the massive consumption of data, while the 5G era has turned its focus on connecting the Internet of Things (IoT) and industrial automation systems. The mobile connection technology has evolved on a relatively steady basis, with 3G coming in the early 2000s, 5G in 2010, and 5G in 2020 and experts predict 6G to be available in 2030.
5G is the first generation mobile communication system that supports high frequency bands such as the millimeter wave band that exceeds 10 GHz, and it is a technology that actualizes ultra-high speed wireless data communications of several gigabits per second using a frequency bandwidth of several-hundred megahertz, which is remarkably wider than that achieved previously. This next-generation network holds enormous promise, including fast Internet for everyone, smart cities, driverless cars, critical health care, “internet of things” revolution, and reliable and secure communications for critical infrastructures and services.
Though the 5G mobile communications technology is being deployed, it is already becoming apparent that the data rates of 5G will not be able to satisfy the growing hunger for data among private users and industry for long. Researchers are now developing 6G technology whose economic and military applications will be even more revolutionary.
Looking at the past, it’s clear that each generation optimizes the use cases of the previous generation and introduces new ones. This will continue to be the case. 6G will build on top of 5G in terms of many of the technological and use case aspects, driving their adoption at scale through optimization and cost-reduction. At a potential rate of 1 terabyte per second, 6G is not only much faster, but also promises a latency — which causes lags — of 0.1 milliseconds, compared to 1 millisecond, or the minimum for 5G.
At the same time, 6G will enable new use cases. Advanced functions of wearable devices including XR (VR, AR, MR) devices, high definition images and holograms exceeding 8K, and new five sense communications including tactile sense will proliferate, and communications between humans and between humans and things will become ultra-real and rich. These range from real-time holograms to flying taxis and internet-connected human bodies and brains. As a result, innovative entertainment services and enterprise services for games, watching sports, etc. will be provided without time and place restrictions.
6G would extend the coverage in order to provide services for drones, flying cars, ships, and space stations, since their service areas such as the sky, sea, and space are not fully covered by conventional cellular networks. Therefore, new network topologies should be examined three-dimensionally including the vertical direction.
Wirelessly communicating highly reliable control information is an important requirement for many industrial use cases such as remote control and factory automation, and 6G is expected to achieve higher levels of reliability and security than 5G. Wearable user devices and an extremely large number of IoT devices that collect images and sensing information of the real world are expected to spread further in the 6G era, and an extremely large number of connections that are approximately 10 fold (= 10 million devices per square km) more than the 5G requirements are expected.
6G will aim for simultaneous achievement of several requirements such as ultra-high-speed, high-capacity, and low-latency connectivity. It will pioneer new frequency bands including terahertz frequencies. The expansion of communication coverage in the sky, at sea, and in space. The provisioning of extremely low energy and low-cost communications. The ensuring of extremely reliable communications. The developing of capabilities for extremely massive connectivity and sensing.
While communication system designers are preoccupied with readying millimeter wave (mmWave) frequency bands (30 to 300 GHz) to offer multi-gigabit-per-second (Gbps) data rates for 5G mobile devices, the terahertz band (0.3 THz to 30 THz) is the next frontier in wireless communications for its ability to unlock significantly wider segments of unused bandwidth. The aim is to enable a network connection in the terahertz frequency range, which is so stable that data can also be transported wirelessly at speeds of up to 400 gigabits per second. As a first intermediate goal the researchers intend to embed terahertz radio solutions in fiber optic networks with high data rates, open up new frequency bands and thus pave the way for a resilient communications infrastructure that will meet the demands of the future. The wireless Tbit/s communications and the supporting backhaul network infrastructure are expected to become the main technology trend within the next ten years and beyond.
Major scientific obstacles abound — for example, researchers must solve the question of how airwaves traveling extremely short distances can easily penetrate materials such as water vapor or even a sheet of paper. Networks may need to be ultra-dense, with multiple base stations installed not only on every street, but also in each building or even each device people use to receive and transmit signals. That’s set to raise serious questions over health, privacy and urban design.
Research Race for 6G
Countries now engaged in 6G research race. After being a follower for 2G, 3G and 4G, China became a global leader for 5G. By the end of 2021, President Xi Jinping’s government had built the largest 5G mobile infrastructure in the world, with 1.43 million base stations, accounting for over 60% of the global total. Having only had its 5G network turned on for a month, Beijing officially launched R&D into 6G in November 2019, ahead of its initial 2020 schedule. The next generation of mobile network was also touted as a top priority in new details emerging from the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan in 2022.
More recently a group, consisting of several government departments as well as 37 universities, research institutes and enterprises, was set up to work exclusively on 6G. As well as providing support for R&D in the form of university funding and business tax breaks, Beijing has also stated its desire to be involved in the creation of international standards for the network.
South Korea’s ICT minister sparked headlines from Mobile World Congress when she appeared to announce 2028 as the starting date for Korean 6G. Japan is a different story. Eager to claw its way back to the front ranks of mobile, it has struck multiple 6G partnerships with the US as well as with Finland and, most recently, the UK.
The US is reportedly set to increase investment in high-end 6G technology, so as to surpass the advantages China’s Huawei has built in the 5G field. Washington has already started to sketch out the 6G battle lines. The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions, a U.S. telecom standards developer known as ATIS, launched the Next G Alliance in October to “advance North American leadership in 6G.” The alliance’s members include technology giants like Apple Inc., AT&T Inc., Qualcomm Inc., Google and Samsung Electronics Co., but not Huawei.
The alliance mirrors the way that the world has been fractured into opposing camps as a result of 5G rivalry. Led by the U.S, which identified Huawei as an espionage risk — an allegation the Chinese giant denies — countries including Japan, Australia, Sweden and the U.K. have shut the firm out of their 5G networks. However, Huawei is welcomed in Russia, the Philippines, Thailand, and other countries in Africa and the Middle East.
The European Union in December 2020 also unveiled a 6G wireless project led by Nokia, which includes companies like Ericsson AB and Telefonica SA, as well as universities.
Fraunhofer experts and partners from industry and research are therefore already doing research on the next but one mobile communications technology 6G as part of the EU project Terranova. Both Samsung and LG have 6G research centers in South Korea, and SK Telecom, Nokia, and Ericsson are collaborating on a 6G research project.
In its Canadian research center, Huawei is also said to have started its 6G research, following company founder Ren Zhengfei’s interview with CNBC in 2019, where he said, “We have parallel work being done on 5G and 6G, so we started out 6G a long time ago.” In November 2019 China announced the formation of a research team dedicated to 6G, while in Finland, the 6G Flagship research program is backed by Nokia, the University of Oulu, and other telecoms and business bodies. In early 2018, the University of Oulu in Finland announced the funding of their 6G Flagship program to research materials, antennas, software, and more that will be required to launch 6G. The idea is to start developing the hardware needed to implement 6G and explore how the new technology might be used.
In super coverage extension, by considering the utilization of geostationary satellites (GEO), low earth orbit satellites (LEO), and high altitude pseudo satellites (HAPS), it becomes possible to cover mountainous and remote areas, sea, and space, and to provide communication services to new areas. In particular, HAPS has attracted attention again recently because it can be stationed at a fixed location at an altitude of approximately 20 km, and can form a wide coverage area with a cell radius of greater than 50 km on land. HAPS is considered to be effective not only as a disaster countermeasure but also for many industry use cases expected in 5G evolution and 6G.
DoD’s Innovate Beyond 5G Program embarks on three new projects
The first of the projects is Open6G, a newly established industry-university cooperative effort that aims to jump-start 6G systems research on open radio access networks (Open RAN), focusing on Open RAN research and open source implementation of 5G protocol stack features to support emerging beyond/enhanced 5G applications. The project is managed by Northeastern University’s Kostas Research Institute through a cooperative agreement with the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) and is set to be housed at the Northeastern University Institute for Wireless Internet of Things (IoT).
The US Department of Defense (DoD) has announced the launch of three new projects under its Innovate Beyond 5G (IB5G) programme. The projects will be taken up by the DoD in collaboration with the industry and academia. According to IB5G programme director Dr Sumit Roy, the projects are part of the DoD’s efforts to advance 5G-to-NextG wireless technologies and concept demonstrations.
Another new project is the Spectrum Exchange Security and Scalability project with Zylinium Research, under which the partners will study spectrum-sharing technologies, which are becoming more critical as wireless networks face increasing user demand. Zylinium Research recently demonstrated its “Spectrum Exchange” network service appliance for dynamic spectrum allocation on the Platform for Open Wireless Data-drive Experimental Research (POWDER) at the University of Utah,part of the Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Also under the IB5G umbrella is the large-scale Massive Multi-Input/Multi-Output (MIMO) project, a collaboration with Nokia Bell Labs, which aims to establish Massive MIMO as a critical tool for the warfighter due to its ability to increase resiliency and throughput for wireless tactical communications. This project was awarded $3.69 million by Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD(R&E)) under an Open Broad Agency Announcement solicitation for Advanced Wireless Communications research. The project will explore key technology components that enable scaling MIMO technology across different bands and bandwidths and DoD-focused use cases.
Nokia 6G Vision
“The role of next-generation networks is the unification of our experience across the physical, digital and human world,” says Harish Viswanathan, Head of Radio Systems Research at Nokia Bell Labs. “Just as the applications of today are built on the foundation of multimedia, we envision future applications to use digital worlds as the framework. Dynamic digital twin worlds would be accurate, high-resolution representations of the physical world and/or representations of virtual worlds,” he adds.
We will connect the physical world to our own human world, thanks to the massive scale deployment of sensors and artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) with digital twin models and real-time synchronous updates. These digital twin models are crucial because they allow us to analyze what’s happening in the physical world, simulate possible outcomes, anticipate needs and then take productive actions back into the physical world.
Digital twin models are already being used with 5G. With 6G, we can expect these technologies to operate at a much larger scale. Digital twins will be found not only in factories but also in wide area networks of cities and even digital twins of humans which will have a major impact on the network architecture.
While the smartphone will remain a key device in the 6G era, new man-machine interfaces will make it more convenient to consume and control information. Touchscreen typing will gradually get replaced by gesture and voice control. Devices will come embedded into clothing and even transform into skin patches. Healthcare will be an important benefactor as wearables facilitate 24/7 monitoring of vital parameters.
The maturing of AI and machine vision and their capacity to recognize people and objects will turn wireless cameras into universal sensors. Radio and other sensing modalities like acoustics will gather information on the environment. Digital cash and keys may become the norm. We may even start relying on brain sensors to actuate machines.
Samsung’s 6G White Paper Lays Out the Company’s Vision
Samsung released a white paper entitled “The Next Hyper-Connected Experience for All.” outlining the company’s vision for the next generation communication system, namely 6G. The white paper covers various aspects related to 6G, including technical and societal megatrends, new services, requirements, candidate technologies and an expected timeline of standardization. Samsung’s vision for 6G is to bring the next hyper-connected experience to every corner of life.
“While 5G commercialization is still in its initial stage, it’s never too early to start preparing for 6G because it typically takes around 10 years from the start of research to commercialization of a new generation of communications technology,” explained Sunghyun Choi, Head of the Advanced Communications Research Center. “We’ve already launched the research and development of 6G technologies by building upon the experience and ability we have accumulated from working on multiple generations of communications technology, including 5G.
Going forward, we are committed to leading the standardization of 6G in collaboration with various stakeholders across industry, academia and government fields.” In the white paper, Samsung expects that the completion of the 6G standard and its earliest commercialization date could be as early as 2028, while mass commercialization may occur around 2030. Both humans and machines will be the main users of 6G, and 6G will be characterized by provision of advanced services such as truly immersive extended reality (XR), high-fidelity mobile hologram and digital replica.
The paper also discussed that while enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), ultra-reliable and low latency communications (URLLC), and massive machine-type communications (mMTC) would continue to improve as the technology moves towards 6G, new services would also emerge due to the advancement in technologies. The services would provide the ultimate media experience and would involve hyper-connectivity of humans and everything. These new services that Samsung expects to crop up with 6G are: Truly immersive extended reality(XR); High-fidelity mobile hologram; and Digital replica.
Whereas 5G requirements mainly focused on performance aspects, Samsung defines three categories of requirements that have to be met to realize 6G services – performance, architectural and trustworthiness requirements. Examples of 6G performance requirements are a peak data rate of 1,000 Gbps (gigabits per second) and air latency less than 100 microseconds (μs), 50 times the peak data rate and one-tenth the latency of 5G.
The architectural requirements of 6G include resolving the issues arising from the limited computation capability of mobile devices as well as implementing AI right from the initial phase of technology development and enabling the flexible integration of new network entities. The trustworthiness requirement addresses the security and privacy issues arising from the widespread use of user data and AI technologies.
The white paper also introduces candidate technologies that could be essential to satisfy the requirements for 6G. These include the use of the terahertz (THz) frequency band, novel antenna technologies to enhance the coverage of high frequency band signals, advanced duplex technologies, the evolution of network topology, spectrum sharing to increase the efficiency of frequency utilization and the use of AI in wireless communications.
Chinese lab claims breakthrough in ‘6G’ mobile technology in Jan 2021
Chinese government-backed institute Purple Mountain Laboratories said that a research team had achieved a 6G-level wireless transmission up to a speed of 206.25 gigabits per second for the first time in a lab environment, South China Morning Post reported.
According to the report, the test was supported by a special government project on as-yet-unstandardized 6G systems and achieved in collaboration with telecoms carrier China Mobile and Fudan University. The speed achieved claims to be a world record for real-time wireless transmission within the terahertz frequency band, which is considered to be the base for future 6G mobile communications, according to the Purple Mountain Laboratories.
The laboratory noted that the achievement has a wide range of application prospects, as it can be integrated with existing fiber optical networks to expand 100-1000 Gbps outdoor and indoor ultra-high-speed wireless access, replace the existing mobile network fiber optical networks to achieve rapid deployment, and replace the huge amount of cables in the data center to significantly reduce costs and power consumption, according to a report by Chinese paper Global Times.
China is responsible for 40.3% of global 6G patent filings, followed by the U.S. with 35.2%. Japan with 9.9%, Europe with 8.9% and South Korea with 4.2%, according to a recent report by Nikkei. According to the report, China’s 6G patent applications are mostly related to mobile infrastructure technology. Many of the latest patents have been filed by Chinese vendor Huawei, while other key Chinese patent holders include state-run companies including State Grid Corporation of China and China Aerospace Science and Technology. Huawei expects to launch 6G products around 2030, the company’s rotating chairman Eric Xu Zhiju, had previously said.
China launched 6G satellite in Nov 2020
China also has the most 6G patents in the world, according to a survey of 20,000 applications by Nikkei and the Cyber Create Institute. China had 40.3% of the 6G filings, mainly focused on 6G infrastructure and primarily filed by Huawei and state-run companies such as State Grid Corporation of China and China Aerospace Science and Technology.
We’ve also seen several so-called “6G firsts” from China. The “world’s first 6G satellite” went into orbit from Shanxi province in November 2020, while a lab in Nanjing reportedly achieved the world’s fastest real-time wireless communication in January 2021.
China sent 13 satellites into orbit in Nov 2020, including the world’s very first sixth-generation communications test satellite. The 6G experimental satellite, named after the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, was jointly developed by Chengdu Guoxing Aerospace Technology, UESTC, and Beijing MinoSpace Technology. It will be used to verify the performance of 6G technology in space as the 6G frequency band will expand from the 5G millimeter wave frequency to the terahertz frequency. The satellite is the first technical test of terahertz communication’s application in space, said Xu Yangsheng, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
The technology is expected to be over 100 times faster than 5G, enabling lossless transmission in space to achieve long-distance communications with a smaller power output. The technology allows terahertz to be widely used in satellite internet, said Lu Chuan, head of the UESTC’s Institute of Satellite Industry Technology. The satellite carries an optical remote sensing load system to monitor crop disasters, prevent forest fires, check forestry resources, and monitor water conservancy and mountain floods as well as provide abundant satellite images and data, Lu noted.
Osaka University and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore reported to develop first 6G chip in Oct 2020
A new chip, described in a paper in Nature Photonics by a team from Osaka University and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, may give us a glimpse of our 6G future. The team was able to transmit data at a rate of 11 gigabits per second, topping 5G’s theoretical maximum speed of 10 gigabits per second and fast enough to stream 4K high-def video in real time. They believe the technology has room to grow, and with more development, might hit those blistering 6G speeds.
The 6G chip kicks 5G up several more notches. It can transmit waves at more than three times the frequency of 5G: one terahertz, or a trillion cycles per second. The team says this yields a data rate of 11 gigabits per second. While that’s faster than the fastest 5G will get, it’s only the beginning for 6G. One wireless communications expert even estimates 6G networks could handle rates up to 8,000 gigabits per second; they’ll also have much lower latency and higher bandwidth than 5G.
Terahertz waves fall between infrared waves and microwaves on the electromagnetic spectrum. Generating and transmitting them is difficult and expensive, requiring special lasers, and even then the frequency range is limited. The team used a new material to transmit terahertz waves, called photonic topological insulators (PTIs). PTIs can conduct light waves on their surface and edges rather than having them run through the material, and allow light to be redirected around corners without disturbing its flow. The chip is made completely of silicon and has rows of triangular holes. The team’s research showed the chip was able to transmit terahertz waves error-free.
Nanyang Technological University associate professor Ranjan Singh, who led the project, said, “Terahertz technology […] can potentially boost intra-chip and inter-chip communication to support artificial intelligence and cloud-based technologies, such as interconnected self-driving cars, which will need to transmit data quickly to other nearby cars and infrastructure to navigate better and also to avoid accidents.”
Besides being used for AI and self-driving cars (and, of course, downloading hundreds of hours of video in seconds), 6G would also make a big difference for data centers, IoT devices, and long-range communications, among other applications. Given that 5G networks are still in the process of being set up, though, 6G won’t be coming on the scene anytime soon; a recent whitepaper on 6G from Japanese company NTTDoCoMo estimates we’ll see it in 2030, pointing out that wireless connection tech generations have thus far been spaced about 10 years apart; we got 3G in the early 2000s, 4G in 2010, and 5G in 2020.
6G Military Race
6G could also satisfy Military’s growing requirements to gather, analyze, and share information rapidly; to control an increasing number of automated Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets; to command geographically dispersed and mobile forces to gain access into denied areas.
The US government had defined 5G competition as a “new arms race,” and “whichever country dominates 5G will gain an economic, intelligence and military edge for much of this century.” The new Armed race is now focussed on 6G. The transition to 5G is a revolution and “this will be almost more important than electricity,” an analyst was quoted by the report as saying. US President Donald Trump said in February last year that he wanted, “5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible”. “Unlike 5G, North America will not let the opportunity for a generational leadership slide by so easily this time,” said Vikrant Gandhi, senior industry director of information and communications technologies at consultancy firm Frost & Sullivan in the U.S. “It is likely that the competition for 6G leadership will be fiercer than that for 5G.”
China is already moving ahead. The country launched a satellite in November 2020 to test airwaves for potential 6G transmission, and Huawei has a 6G research center in Canada, according to Canadian media reports. Telecommunications equipment manufacturer ZTE Corp. has also teamed up with China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd. to develop the technology.
“This endeavor is so important that it’s become an arms race to some extent,” said Peter Vetter, head of access and devices at Nokia Oyj’s research arm Bell Labs. “It will require an army of researchers on it to remain competitive.”
Japan has also recently joined the 6G research race, announcing in January an intention to lead standardisation efforts and to study challenges it might present. It doesn’t stop there. The FCC has taken the first steps of opening up terahertz wave spectrum (frequencies between 95 GHz and 3 THz), citing that it will “expedite the deployment of new services in the spectrum above 95 GHz.”
As of now, it’s still not clear which technologies are likely to be used for 6G. In general, the most discussed technologies are terahertz and space-air-ground integrated network (SAGIN). It’s indeed an important development direction for 6G to use SAGIN, and it also has great value for military development due to its full coverage of the globe. In addition to communication, it can also be combined with positioning satellites for communication and monitoring. But the military field has already begun to use satellite systems extensively, and GPS positioning technology has been used for decades. These technologies were developed long before the development and use of 6G. As a huge civilian system, 6G lags behind the military field in these aspects.
A project leader at New York University was cited in an article as saying that the US Defense Department focuses on the use of terahertz communications for certain military applications. In fact, the terahertz frequency is used for building communication systems not because it is easy to use, but because this frequency can support a very large bandwidth. However, the shortcoming of the technology is its weak diffraction ability and coverage ability. It may be an option to provide ultra-large bandwidth in densely populated urban areas, but for military applications, there are obviously problems related to deployment and poor stability.
China’s military draws on 6G dream to modernise fighting forces and plan wartime scenarios
China launched its first 5G networks in November but its military is already looking ahead to even faster wireless technology. China launched its first 5G networks in November but its military is already looking ahead to even faster wireless technology China has discussed using 6G telecommunication technology to modernise its fighting forces, even though the country has just begun implementing 5G technology and 6G exists only in theoretical studies. The US Department of Defense may also pay attention to the fact that competition among countries in the 6G industry will become more intense in the future.
An article titled “If 6G Were to be Used in the Future Battlefield”, published by the PLA’s China National Defence News in April 2020, said 6G had a distinct technological edge and rich potential for military applications when compared to 5G.“If [6G] technology is introduced into the military, it will surely have a major impact on military practices, such as war formation, equipment development and battlefield communications,” the article said. “Promoting the gradual application of 6G in the military might be one of the major focuses for the Chinese armed forces to adapt to the new military changes in the future.”
Observers said there remained questions around whether the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could shoulder such an ambitious and demanding transformation and how far the sixth-generation wireless technology could be adopted. “If [6G] technology is introduced into the military, it will surely have a major impact on military practices, such as war formation, equipment development and battlefield communications,” the article said. “Promoting the gradual application of 6G in the military might be one of the major focuses for the Chinese armed forces to adapt to the new military changes in the future.”
The article said potential 6G benefits went beyond data transmission speed. Better internet access, high transmission rates, low delay and broad bandwidth would deliver military advances, such as gathering intelligence, visualising combat operations and delivering precise logistical support. “Based on the 6G network, the commander could make the right decisions quickly after the control-and-command network mined, learned and analysed vast data from the ground,” the article said. The China National Defence News report said that battle units could get highly specific and instantaneous information on troop locations and equipment, allowing the military to make tailored logistic plans.
China officially started researching the 6G telecoms technology in early November 2019, according to a Ministry of Science and Technology notice. The ministry announced that it had two teams overseeing 6G research. One comprised government departments in charge of executing 6G technology, while the other was made up of 37 experts from universities, science institutions and corporations who would provide technical advice to the government.
Timothy Heath, a senior defence researcher at the Rand Corporation, a US think tank, said despite China’s ambitious plan, it was risky for Beijing to try to achieve too much at once. “The PLA is still building the basic organisation of a modern, joint military after decades operating as a low-skill, low-technology force,” he said. “It is also struggling to control corruption and improve the quality and education of the personnel force. “Until the PLA has achieved its goals of recruiting, training and managing an educated, competent and non-corrupt personnel force, there will be limits to how much the military can absorb extremely advanced technology.” Heath said that as little was known about 5G, discussions about the use of 6G in warfare were currently speculative.
This 6G technology has the capability to put China for the first time ahead of the US, because of 6G’s vastly superior bandwidth, extremely low latency, and high connectivity properties. The future of combat will be autonomous and reliant on data drive artificial intelligence. 5G US autonomous drones will therefore by outmatched by China’s 6G alternatives.
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