The 5G rollout has barely started, but industry and academia have already begun talking about the generation of mobile connectivity that lies beyond 5G. Universities, governments, and companies started investing in research to tackle requirements that the 6G will probably demand when it comes alive around 2030, such as Terahertz frequencies, holoportation, smart cities, and autonomous cars.
So far, four recent joint projects focused on 6G development have been announced: The Next G Alliance in the U.S. and Canada; Hexa-X, RISE-6G, and NEW-6G in Europe. The European Commission has proposed a €900 million budget to invest in 6G research, with particular attention to standardisation leadership, and boosting 5G deployment. The legislation has yet to be approved.
Also, several countries have kicked off their own endeavours and allocated a budget to carry their own research. Finland, Japan, Korea, and China are in the mix, and there is pressure for Vietnam to join the club.
In this article, 6GWorld™ gives you an overview of the three major initiatives and explains what they are, who is responsible for them, and their expected outcomes.
Next G Alliance: The U.S. Enters the Game
It’s not breaking news that the United States have been lagging behind the most advanced countries when it comes to the 5G rollout, while China and South Korea rapidly boosted their 5G networks.
That was already clear in April 2020, when Nicol Turner Lee, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation, published an article saying that “the 5G marketplace is quickly maturing and the U.S. has lost some time in its attention to a range of regulatory and legislative directives that, at times, have constrained activities.”
A month later, industry association Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) issued a call-for-action urging the United States to promote 6G leadership. In October 2020, ATIS launched the Next G Alliance, an initiative aiming to lay out the foundations of 6G in North America.
The group currently has 43 founders and contributing members, including some tech giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and most of the major carriers in the U.S. and Canada.
“Ultimately, our objective will be to influence the U.S. government funding priorities and actions that will incentivise the industry,” said Susan Miller, CEO and president at ATIS, in an interview to 6GWorld in November. “We hope to lay a foundation for a very vibrant marketplace for products and services globally.”
Unlike other programs that foster 6G, the Next G Alliance was born from a market initiative, not from governments’ efforts to set up a policy or vision. But that’s not necessarily a problem, according to Miller.
Besides funding and research, the Next G Alliance will look at manufacturing developments and standards from a high-level strategic perspective. The idea is to engage the international community in discussions about standards and how government and industry can work together.
The first initiative outcome – a common roadmap to 6G – is expected to be delivered in 2021.
Hexa-X: the European 6G flagship program
Funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020, Hexa-X is a two-and-a-half-year program coordinated by Nokia that comprises 25 members, like Ericsson, Intel, and Orange. It started on January 1st, 2021and it’s scheduled to end on June 30th, 2023. The initiative will receive €11.9 million from the E.U. during the span.
The vision published by the consortium shows how its members foresee 6G in the future: A network capable of connecting the physical, digital, and human (senses, bodies, intelligence, and values) worlds.
The Hexa-X initiative will work around six main research challenges that should lay the technical foundation for 6G:
- 6G mass connectivity: Research the framework to support, enhance, and enable real-time control through A.I. and machine learning.
- Multiple networks: 6G will enable a connection between different networks, according to the vision presented by Hexa-X. All these systems would form a single “network of networks.”
- Sustainability: Optimise energy consumption and use its digital capabilities to help decrease the global ICT environmental footprint.
- Inclusion and affordability: Find ways to provide global 6G coverage and connect regions like rural areas, transport over oceans, and vast land masses that currently lack signal.
- Extreme experiences: Providing extremely high bitrates, imperceptible latency, and accuracy requires research to develop solutions capable of delivering such promises.
- Trustworthiness: Work on security and confidentiality issues to guarantee data privacy and operational resilience.
“The technical scope is very wide given the nature of this project – explorative research towards future networks. We will build on 5G technology evolution, but the focus will be on the exploration of the revolutionary. What will be incorporated into future 6G networks remains to be seen after we start our thorough evaluation,” said Peter Vetter, Head of A-Lab at Nokia Bell Labs, and Magnus Frodigh, VP Head of Ericsson Research, in an article published in January 2021.
The following image shows the 5G fields Hexa-X researchers will build upon to get to 6G technologies:
On March 1st, the consortium published its first deliverable, specifying some uses cases and trends on the path towards 6G.
NEW-6G and RISE-6G: The future of networks
In February, two new 6G European initiatives were announced. RISE-6G, a European Union-funded consortium of 13 members across the continent launched under 5G-PPP, focused on Reconfigurable Intelligent Surfaces; and the NEW-6G, which stands for Nano Electronic and Wireless for 6G.
Both are led by the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), while NEW-6G is coordinated by CEA-Leti, the Commission technology research branch.
RISE-6G will receive €6.49 million from the E.U. under the Horizon 2020 program and dive into a specific aspect of the next generation of mobile connectivity: Ways to reconfigure and control the incoming signal. This is an ability that 6G will likely require since it will enable “data-driven, instantaneous, ultra-massive, and ubiquitous wireless connectivity, as well as connected intelligence,” according to an article published by IEEE members in November 2020, including RISE-6G Principal Investigator Marco Di Renzo.
One of its goals will be tackling sustainability by decreasing the amount of electromagnetic radiation. Another will be to address security and ways to reduce eavesdropping, Di Renzo said in an interview with 6GWorld.
Simultaneously, the NEW-6G project will focus on the nanoworld and explore “the convergence between microelectronic and telecom, hardware and software, network and equipment,” according to the initiative’s definition.
The consortium will tackle mainly the following objectives by establishing roadmaps and promoting discussions about innovation, though they are not the only subjects:
- Network architecture and optimisation, protocols and data flows,
- Security of information and infrastructures,
- Integrated circuits, digital components, high-performance radio frequencies and low energy consumption,
- Efficient, integrated antenna solutions, and
- Dedicated, high-performance, sustainable semiconductor technologies.
“NEW-6G will offer unprecedented opportunities to rethink the role of nanoelectronics and to establish roadmaps, encourage cooperation, share knowledge and promote the emergence of innovative ideas,” said Emilio Calvanese Strinati, 6G Future Wireless Research Director at CEA-Leti in a press release.
A step closer to 6G
While the next generation of mobile connectivity still lies roughly a decade ahead, the number of 6G projects being launched and the investments in research provide an intriguing prospect for the future.
Share your thoughts with us: Do you think this effort will lead to 6G? The debate has just started.