6G networks were an anticipated recurring theme heading into the 2021 Joint EuCNC & 6G Summit, an event partnering the annual European Conference on Networks and Communications and the third edition of 6G Flagship’s 6G Summit. Its “Hardware Enabling Technologies for 6G Networks” workshop specifically tackled political and technological aspects moving forward.
The Need to Protect 6G Future Networks
Organised by the 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership COREnect project, the workshop featured, among others, Patrick Pype, Director of Strategic Partnerships and External Relations at NXP Semiconductors. In his presentation, he suggested “there is quite a challenge in front of us in terms of protecting security and privacy of 6G future networks.”
“We believe that for 6G, we will work fully towards autonomous systems, multi-sensory augmented reality, wireless brain-computer interactions, blockchain, etc., and then we will have to solve security issues in AI-powered 6G technologies and threats in the [physical; PHY] layer such as for example the THz type of communications,” he said.
To address the issue, Pype argued for effective supply chains, a seamless process from design to manufacturing, stable process technologies, reliable electronic components, open hardware and software, and end-to-end communications. As he pointed out, society is evolving towards higher data rates and ultra-reliability requirements though, which can pose a challenge. After all, as co-speaker Gerhard Fettweis noted, Moore’s Law is slowing down.
Slowdown of Moore’s Law
“[Cellular and Wi-Fi] are still increasing dramatically in terms of data rate per year and are reaching possibly 1 tb/s,” Fettweis, the Vodafone Chair Professor at Dresden University of Technology said. “One of the questions that is always posed: ‘Do we really need 1 tb/s?’
“If we have virtual reality goggles on and you really look at high-definition virtual reality, that alone needs around 50 tb/s uncompressed, which means compressed that would be around 10 gb/s. That is, of course, a streaming application for which we’d want multiple terminals to be present in a cell, so we really need higher data rates than we have today. Otherwise, truly high-definition virtual reality and maybe even augmented reality will not happen.”
Fettweis presented on “Energy Efficiency, Green Communications Electronics,” ultimately pointing to other challenges that are popping up, like the increase in power consumption of data centres and wireless networks. Although expecting increases in efficiency thanks to Moore’s Law, he projected a 10x improvement in energy performance when it used to be 100x.
“Another challenge is the virtualisation coming up. Virtualisation means we need to use commercial off-the-shelf servers, which use 100x power consumption for the same operation. The third challenge is we have massive MIMO peeking around the corner. So we don’t have one transceiver per base station antenna panel, but multiple transceivers and we need to have high-resolution analogue digital converters,” he said.
Fettweis effectively presented the findings of COREnect’s three separate expert groups, representing the project as a whole. He tabled a few solutions to balance the ledger of increased energy efficiency vs. consumption, including what COREnect calls a “gearbox” PHY, which would apply “super-high-efficient wireless transceivers for every single gear” of the network load.
Other proposed solutions included new architectures for RADAR and sensor networks, energy harvesting, and wireless energy transfer. Finally he addressed energy-efficient data processing.
“We have to[…] apply all the techniques we have been doing over the years, that we all know very well can be done, to build the most energy-efficient compute solution,” he said. “Now the scale is balanced, such that the improvements outweigh the costs – yes, we can make 6G happen. So the good news is there is a lot of hope.”
Patrick Cogez, Technical Program Manager at AENEAS, a microelectronics industry association based in Paris, discussed “Opportunities and Challenges for Hardware Enabling Technologies in the SNS Partnership.” On the subject of chips and semiconductor tech, he said it would be unrealistic for Europe to control the global value chain into the medium term. However, he saw several opportunities enabled by 6G that would allow Europe to play to its strengths, starting to develop design capabilities in sub-10nm (Complementary metal-oxide semiconductor; CMOS) technology being one of them.
“This is less intensive than implementing the manufacturing of fabs in those technologies; and this could be independent fabless designers or it could be part of a reverticalisation trend,” he said.
Call for European Technological Independence
Cogez used the example of the automotive industry, in which Volkswagen announced it will design its own chips to earn a strategic advantage. He invited co-panelists from the telecoms sector to comment on whether or not something similar will occur there. Fredrik Tillman, Head of Integrated Radio Systems at Ericsson, in turn noted that there will be a value transition that Europe needs to capture as an increasing number of devices get connected.
“What we need to do is to create an ecosystem where we can grow the [System on a chip; SOC] design competence and leadership and utilise key strengths in Europe when it comes to end-user components,” he said. “Once we connect those to the network, the value transition going into the SOCs, that has to be captured by Europe.
“It’s a great opportunity for both the telecommunications industry, the connection as such, but also for the microelectronic industry to be part of this journey; and that means that, as European players, we need to grow into IP development, into SOC design, bridge the software. We cannot only [be] resign[ed to] doing the components of the lower layers in the value chain.”
For additional context, COREnect calls for decreasing Europe’s dependence on American and Asian technologies. One strategy to accomplish that goal is greater coordination between the European telecommunications and microelectronics sectors. Colin Wilcock, Chairman of the Board of the 5G Infrastructure Association, opened the workshop by noting the predominant action item at the moment is to create a single strategic roadmap of the core technologies in question.
“Can we use that roadmap firstly to try and promote, in both private and public settings, the conditions to try and create these European champions?” he asked, adding that the goal is “to disseminate this vision of the future and try to use that to build strategy for creating those companies, creating those opportunities for existing companies.”
Wilcock said that roadmap will be released later this month. The 2021 Joint EuCNC & 6G Summit meanwhile runs the rest of the week, ending Friday, June 11.
Feature image courtesy of xier (via Shutterstock).