6 Months of 6G – Action Globally

November 9, 2022

Written by Alex Lawrence
CATEGORY: Exclusives

While many of us are familiar with the leading role of the USA, China and Europe in the development of mobile technologies all the way up to 5G, countries around the world are seeing their opportunity to contribute in new ways to the next generation of telecoms. The past six months have seen not just statements of intent but concrete actions to bring countries and regions into the 6G fold, usually as part of a broader technology push, reflecting an acknowledgement that 5G and beyond are platforms for delivering a broad range of services in a way that early generations simply weren’t.   

Japan

Long a technology leader, Japan’s authorities are working hard to ensure that the country has a stake in developments beyond 5G.

Just this month, Japan’s government green-lit a $450m research fund for 6G, which will be administered by their National Institute for Communications and Technology [NICT].

Founded in 2021, the Beyond 5G Promotion Consortium (B5GPC) has so far this year signed cooperation MoUs with both ATIS Next G Alliance in North America and SNS-PPP in Europe. Bringing on board key contributors to 6G development efforts elsewhere, such as the head of Finland’s 6G FLAGSHIP programme Matti Latva-Aho, it is clear that there is a strategy of global engagement and co-development.

This extends to a partnership announced in the summer between NTT Group and a group of vendors – Nokia, Fujitsu, NEC and Microsoft – that spans the globe. The companies are jointly working “to conduct experimental trials of new mobile communications technologies for the targeted commercial launch of 6G services by around 2030.” The partnership runs from semiconductor materials all the way up the stack to cloud-native architectures.

Meanwhile, NTT Group’s IOWN project will draw upon the country’s long-established expertise in high technology hardware and software to deliver radical change in the transport and core networks. There are inefficiencies in shifting between optical signals in fibres and electrical signals in connectors, processors and other elements. Instead, NTT is leading the charge towards all-photonic networks, which requires radical reinvention throughout the technology stack owing to the differences in physical properties between photons and electrons.

UAE and the Gulf

Abu Dhabi held the Gulf’s first 6G Summit in November. This was driven by Abu Dhabi’s Technology Innovation Institute [TII]. 6GWorld interviewed TII’s Merouane Debbah back in July, where he outlined some of the motivations behind the UAE putting a large but unspecified amount of funding into this.

Not surprisingly, the broader environment is the Gulf States’ need to diversify away from oil revenues for their long-term economic wellbeing. However, rather than try to replicate or rival the work being done in some of the ‘heartlands’ of telecoms, TII is focussing on the development of AI.

We know that future networks will depend on AI and ML for much more efficient and flexible working; while end-to-end service delivery will require efficient coordination of resources only possible by AI. At the same time, there are huge energy efficiencies to be captured by making AI perform more like human brains, enabling much more sustainable services.

By focussing on areas which have applicability across both computing and telecoms, organisations such as TII can act as the basis for whole ecosystems of AI applications; a nascent environment where a new entrant with enough backing could add significant value and play a unique role.

Indeed, both Abu Dhabi and Dubai have already been investing heavily in trials and rollouts of advanced systems to reduce human activity, especially out in the summer sun. Trials of drone deliveries, a deployed smart traffic system and more; while the controversial NEOM smart city programme in Saudi Arabia certainly has the potential to push forward innovation across a wide variety of smart services.

India

Arguably, India is the largest unknown in the global race for 6G influence. While the country isn’t known for its speed in deploying telecoms networks – indeed, it was still auctioning 5G spectrum this year – its position is strategically interesting.

For example, standards body TSDSI has argued in the past (as at 6GSymposium last Spring) that 5G and previous generations were developed in Europe and the USA for an environment that was badly suited to India and other emerging markets. The integration of TSDSI’s proposed 5Gi into Release 17 shows that this is starting to change and isn’t likely to be reversed.

Meanwhile, a change of emphasis from dedicated networking hardware to a secure, sustainable, software-based, more open ecosystem plays into national strengths for India, primarily the large quantities of graduates it creates with skills in IT and computer science – over 200,000 a year. This has helped the country to develop its Digital India programme; this, combined with others such as Make in India, tend towards a home-grown strategy for 6G as well. 

This is indeed what Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw emphasised just last month in a speech to the India Mobile Congress, underlining the aspiration that, though 5G was launched officially in India in October 2022, 6G would be commercially available in 2030.

The country is receiving attention for its relevant expertise, too. In August the Australian high Commissioner proposed a collaboration on developing ethical standards for cybersecurity that would underpin future developments in 6G and technologies dependent on it.   

There is evidence that some technology firms in India are hiring already for 6G R&D. However, the companies highlighted, such as Apple and Ericsson, are global companies beginning to exploit the country’s strengths.

Can the latent strengths of the country can successfully be harnessed for national innovation and leadership? Towards the end of 2021 the Department of Telecommunications, or DoT, formed a 6G technology innovation group to act as a central point of coordination and have since released a work plan as a top-level set of activities and direction.

We have seen the Indian government move strongly to implement, for example, the Aadhaar identity system and the related India Stack. We’ve also seen wrangling over telecoms regulation delay forward movement considerably. Players like Jio, HCL, Tata and more are capable independently of investing and playing roles in a new ecosystem, but it will be very interesting to keep an eye on developments in the country as a whole.

ASEAN

Singapore’s IMDA launched South-East Asia’s first dedicated 6G Lab in September. The region has strengths outside of traditional telecoms networking and will exploit them, much like in the Gulf, to deliver their own value. In this case, the 6G Lab will work in collaboration with Singapore University of Technology and Design’s (SUTD) AI Mega Centre, giving some indication of the thought process behind it.

Again, international collaboration has been emphasised by announcements coming out of the region, with collaborations with Finland and South Korea hitting the headlines this year.

Vietnam, too, announced a governmental steering committee to oversee 6G research and development earlier this year. Vietnam has a strong play in manufacturing for telecoms components, so there is a basis for growth there, with the same promise and caveats as for India; building a home-grown industry is a very different prospect to supporting outside investors. In May Vietnam was reportedly proposing a collaboration with Thailand as part of a broader economic cooperation agreement.  

Beyond policy moves there has been relatively little news coming out of Vietnam. However, the country recently hosted its annual ATC event in collaboration with IEEE Comsoc, which included three special sessions: one on B5G/6G advances, one on blockchain and distributed ledger technology, and one on machine learning for future networks and IoT. This may well reflect the priorities of the Vietnamese government.

In Taiwan, meanwhile, the Ministry of Science and Technology was a relatively early mover, launching a 6G research programme in 2021 aiming to ally academia closely with industry. In the latter part of 2022 the country has been active in outreach to the wider world, building up collaborations internationally such as this research collaboration with Brazil’s Inatel and an upcoming EU-Taiwan joint workshop.

However, this should not take away from the fact that major home-grown companies such as Foxconn, whose NExT event included a focus on next generation technologies including 6G and satellite, and Mediatek are also investing into R&D to ensure they stay closely involved with the next generation of hardware.

So much to do, so little time

The diversity of demands that 6G will place upon the current telecoms and tech environment, combined with the convergence of computing and communications, offers countries around the world the opportunity to play a role in developing beyond-5G technologies in a way that wasn’t possible even with the previous generation. This is not least due to the state of flux that the telecoms and technology spheres are in right now. It will not be long before a new order starts to crystallise, however, so time is of the essence for any country aiming to carve out a new niche.

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