Released this summer, the “European Vision for the 6G Network Ecosystem” white paper paints a portrait of what to expect from the next cellular generation. 6GWorldTM spoke to representatives of the 5G Infrastructure Association (5G IA), which published the paper, to home in on several key points.
Step Towards Smart Networks and Services
5G IA Chairman of the Board Colin Willcock called the paper a step towards Smart Networks and Services, Europe’s 6G-centric successor to the 5G Infrastructure Public-Private Partnership (5GPPP).
“It’s aligned with the thinking of Smart Networks and Services,” he said. “The same team that made that partnership proposal has been involved to a greater or lesser extent with this white paper. So, it is consistent. It’s an introduction to the areas and thinking you can expect from Smart Networks and Services.”
Willcock also referenced Europe’s Hexa-X flagship 6G project as another means to build the bridge from 5G to 6G. Mikko Uusitalo, Head of Research of Wireless Advanced Technologies at Nokia Bell Labs, also serves as Project Lead of Hexa-X. Uusitalo acted as Editor for the white paper (together with Carlos Bernardos of Charles III University of Madrid). In a separate interview, Uusitalo confirmed the overlap between the research done for the paper and Hexa-X.
“Certainly there is impact in both directions. From Hexa-X there has been [significant] demand for contributors of content and that is reflected in the document,” he said. “So, certainly, Hexa-X participants have been considering relevant information for continued work in Hexa-X.”
Need for Inclusion in a 6G World
Moving forward, the paper makes many recommendations, including the need for global standards to, for example, ensure when a smartphone is turned on it works anywhere in the world, as Willcock put it. He said the logical path forward is for 6G standardisation to continue through the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), but challenges remain.
“We live in a very tense geopolitical time and there is a danger that one or other regions of the world feel it’s in their interest to develop a regional-specific version of 6G. We’ll have to see how that pans out, but I think certainly from my association’s point of view this is not something we wish to see. We think it’s really important to keep a global standard and there are huge advantages to having that,” he said.
Uusitalo seconded the notion that regional standards may lead to short-term benefits, but ultimately global ones would be advantageous for everyone. He also tied it to the need for 6G to be in line with one of Europe’s “primary societal values”: inclusiveness, with privacy, security, and transparency rounding out the four that represent a recurring theme in the paper.
“Everybody is approaching future technology from the point of view of how they see the world and what their values are… By understanding these values and the background, it’s then easier to communicate,” he said. “So, these European values, they’re reflecting how we think everybody should be included and […] we should value the way we see the approach for decision-making in society.”
Energy Efficiency and Security: Two Critical 6G Goals
Willcock separately discussed the importance of network resilience in the context of those values, i.e., security. He explained that if a mobile network goes down today, it’s obviously an issue; However the severity only increases with technological advancements in time unless the right precautions are taken.
“As we go forward and we start applying 5G technology to cars, to remote operations, to connect together smart cities with traffic, water, and energy, if that network goes down […] that’s a whole different ballgame,” he said. “This is why we really do need to be looking forward with even more focus on things like security, robustness, and also making sure that the critical data that’s there is protected.”
Along with security, Willcock called energy efficiency a key goal that must be addressed by 6G. This is expected to play a critical role helping Europe to reach its objective of climate neutrality by 2050. Uusitalo expressed optimism, nevertheless acknowledging the monumental task ahead.
“There is [always a] rather heavy annual increase in demand of wireless data. If you have for example a 100x increase per year and you continue it for 10 years, you get [the need for] 1,000x more capacity […] in the lifetime of one cellular generation,” he said. “So, there is quite some pressure there and history has shown that we are able to address this, but this is not enough to be fully sustainable. So, we need to find some other means to take care of this energy efficiency [problem].
“One dimension that we are talking about in this domain is how can 6G help other sectors in society be sustainable in addition to 6G itself being sustainable. So, in terms of what technologies are helping here, there is not one single thing that is solving this, but it’s many improvements in many different ways.”
Feature image courtesy of NicoElNino (via Shutterstock).