Insights : 6G 101: What Is 6G Technology and How It Works

6G 101: What Is 6G Technology and How It Works

Wondering about the future of wireless communications technology? In this article, we provide a look at 6G, a  new wireless technology generation that is expected to shape society and the economy after it is launched around 2030. . 

What is 6G technology?

“6G” is the sixth generation of wireless technology, the next successor to previous wireless technology generations like 5G, 4G, and so on. Each new generation has come with new capabilities, and 6G is no different.

  • Introduced in the 1990s, 2G wireless technology improved upon the poor voice quality, battery life, and security of early mobile phone networks. It added also SMS text messaging for the time.
  • Introduced in the early 2000s, 3G opened up new possibilities like video calling, robust mobile app support, multimedia messaging support (MMS), and other foundational elements of the mobile computing experience as we know it today.
  • First emerging in 2010, 4G brought dramatically higher speed bandwidth, reduced latency, and high-definition video to wireless communications.
  • Still in the process of global implementation today after rolling out in 2019, 5G increased speed by orders of magnitude once more, offers novel architectures designed for new applications like Internet of Thing (IoT)-based networks, and supports early use cases for novel applications like autonomous driving and augmented reality (AR). 

6G will continue this recent history of rapid innovation in wireless communications with core capabilities, including:

  1. Increased bandwidth and speed, with data rates potentially measured up to terabits per second.
  2. Ultra-low latency and reliability, critical for supporting real-time applications like autonomous driving and smart medicine.
  3. AI-powered interfaces, paired with open networks and other novel architectures to support more adaptable, efficient, and responsive networks.

At present, 6G technology is in its early research stages. Like previous generations of wireless technologies, it is expected to be rolled out over time after initial deployments around the year 2030.

What are the core concepts of 6G technology?

The fundamental design of 6G technology will exhibit a good deal of continuity with past wireless generations such as 5G. The fundamental building blocks of 6G networks, such as base stations, antennas, routers, etc. will fulfill largely the same functions as they have in previous generations of wireless technology.

So what makes 6G different? Leveraging new technologies including greater use of the radio spectrum, AI/ML-powered air interfaces, and advanced antenna designs to provide unprecedented latency, reliability, and data speed/capacity for networks that are more diverse and adaptable than ever before.

We explain some of the central technological pillars of 6G in more detail below. 

What are the technological underpinnings of 6G technology?

Expanded Use of the Radio Spectrum

6G infrastructure will leverage innovative antenna designs (see below) to make greater use of selected spectrum bands, including the upper mid-band spectrum (between 7-24 GHz). New frequency ranges for  6G networks will help balance the benefits of both the sub-7 GHz spectrum (wide coverage) and the greater capacity of bands beyond 24 GHz.

6G networks is also expected to support further expansion up to sub-terahertz frequencies of at least 100Ghz to support highly demanding use cases requiring extreme speeds for wireless connectivity.

AI-Native Networks

6G networks will employ AI-based air interfaces ( the radio transmission between a transmitter and a receiver) that can adapt to achieve optimal performance and energy usage. For example, notes a report from Nokia Bell Labs, AI/ML-based interfaces could:

  1. Utilize machine learning algorithms to adaptively acquire and configure tailored waveforms, constellations, and pilot signals, optimizing spectrum utilization for enhanced efficiency.
  2. Customize signaling and access protocols at the Medium Access Control (MAC) layer, enabling a seamless transition between contention-based or scheduled access methods based on the specific service requirements, with automatic adaptation.
  3. Embrace hardware non-linearities and constraints to flexibly adjust to various target platforms, accommodating and optimizing performance in diverse hardware environments.
  4. Dynamically select from a multitude of parameters within a radio network, leveraging machine learning capabilities to make informed decisions and adjustments to optimize network performance.

Advanced Antenna Designs

The 6G network must be capable of simultaneously accommodating numerous applications requiring ultra-high data rates in the terabits per second range while also ensuring extensive coverage and reliability. Innovative multiple-antenna technologies, including massive MIMO (mMIMO), XL-MIMO, IRS, and CF-mMIMO communications, will play pivotal roles in enabling the functionality of 6G networks.

MIMO refers to “multiple-input and multiple-output”, an approach that employs sending and receiving more than one data over the same channel simultaneously. This article provides a helpful explanation of MIMO and how it works. MIMO is already employed extensively in 5G infrastructure and equipment and will be further refined in 6G through methods such as:

  • mMIMO: Utilizes a large number of antennas at both the transmitter and receiver to increase spectral efficiency and capacity by serving multiple users simultaneously in the same time-frequency resource.

  • XL-MIMO: Extends the concept of mMIMO by further increasing the number of antennas, enabling even greater capacity and coverage, particularly in densely populated areas with high user demand.

  • IRS (Intelligent Reflecting Surface): Uses reconfigurable metasurfaces or reflecting elements to manipulate the propagation environment, enhancing signal strength, coverage, and spectral efficiency by controlling the signal reflection and scattering properties.

  • CF-MIMO (Cooperative Full-Duplex MIMO): Integrates full-duplex communication capabilities with MIMO technology, allowing simultaneous transmission and reception on the same frequency, improving spectral efficiency and doubling the capacity compared to traditional half-duplex systems.

What are some potential applications for 6G technology?

6G research’s quest for greater speed, bandwidth, latency, and reliability is not an abstract pursuit of improved networking capabilities. 6G technology will be critical for enabling the future networks needed to support expected use cases such as:

  • IoT Integration: Seamless incorporation of billions of interconnected devices into everyday life, revolutionizing industries and transforming daily routines. Learn more.
  • Edge Computing: Real-time data processing and analysis at the network’s edge, enabling ultra-low latency applications and distributed computing capabilities. Learn more.
  • Smart Cities: Implementation of advanced technologies to optimize urban infrastructure, transportation, and services for sustainability, safety, and improved quality of life. Learn more.
  • Healthcare: Adoption of telemedicine, real-time monitoring, and AI-driven diagnostics to revolutionize patient care, wellness management, and healthcare accessibility. Learn more.
  • Sustainable Technology: Development and deployment of eco-friendly innovations and renewable energy solutions to minimize environmental impact and promote sustainable development. Learn more.
  • Supply Chain Management: Integration of real-time tracking, autonomous logistics, and blockchain technology to streamline supply chain operations, enhance transparency, and ensure resilience. Learn more.
  • Rural Connectivity: Expansion of high-speed internet access to rural areas, bridging the digital divide and empowering communities with reliable connectivity for economic growth and social development. Learn more.
  • Autonomous Vehicles: Introduction of self-driving vehicles to revolutionize transportation, enhance safety, and redefine mobility with advanced navigation and communication capabilities. Learn more.
  • Space Communications: Utilization of advanced space-based networks for seamless connectivity, data exchange, and exploration beyond Earth’s boundaries, enabling interstellar communication and space exploration. Learn more.

Learning More About 6G Technology and Applications

6G research is in its early stages, advancing rapidly, and set to be the recipient of accelerating investment in the coming years. There is already so much to learn about 6G technology, and more knowledge is emerging all the time!

6G World is here to help you keep track.




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