Future 3GPP Releases Might Be Bridge to 6G, InterDigital VP Says

March 25, 2024

Written by Caio Castro

We are slowly moving from hype to more realistic 6G environments now, and 2024 promises to be a fundamental year for the future of the next G. 

These are only some of the takeaways from the interview 6GWorld had with Milind Kulkarni, Vice President and Head of InterDigital’s Wireless Labs. 

In this conversation that took place at MWC24 in Barcelona, Kulkarni delves into the direction standardisation is taking, paradigm shifts, and goals for 6G research this year.

InterDigital has said that 2024 is a landmark year for 6G. Why is that?

If we go back to November last year, the ITU approved the IMT 2030 vision document, which basically describes the use cases and a framework for 6G. It is an official stamp of approval that says, “Hey, let’s move forward with 6G.”

In response to that, when 3GPP met in December, it had the task of responding to the ITU’s vision document. It now has a timeline to work towards that – which allows 3GPP to actually have the first 6G release available to go back to the ITU by 2028.

That was a significant milestone. Now, as we speak, 3GPP members are discussing Release 19, the second release of 5G Advanced. Many of our standards engineers at InterDigital are working with other company members to decide how we can make release 19 a bridge to 6G. 

We proposed doing pre-6G channel modelling for integrated sensing and communication and FR3, and that was accepted. So, all these things point towards Release 19 connecting the bridge to 6G.

What about the next year? What can we expect for 2025?

When we start looking at the preparations for next year, we can see that 3GPP has established timelines to start some studies towards 6G in Release 20. We have some active research going on within Interdigital, and that’ll feed into those ideas and those concepts.

What are these research areas?

One is about media over wireless, and that’s a perfect place where we bring a lot of video technology and wireless technology together and show how we could improve XR experiences. That’s a continuing evolution of what’s available in 5G. 

The other idea is showing how we can’t only continually evolve what’s being discussed in 3GPP relative to applying AI at the RAN and the core levels, but also look at the fundamental changes in how AI can be used for, let’s say, channel estimation.

The next area that we are focused on: most of the technology for radio networks has been developed using far field communications. There are some approximations that happen when you use pocket communication methods. So, with the increasing frequency ranges, we’re anticipating the FR3 band to be available for 6G, which takes you from 7 GHz to 24 GHz.

However, if you look at what happens around the 12 GHz to 15 GHz range, near-field communications start to become very possible. And you can use that to increase capacity by making it more spectrally efficient and precise. Instead of using a flashlight to see things, you’re using a spotlight. 

We are also excited about distributed computing and communications. We see more and more push towards the edge, and we believe that a lot of edge intelligence can be built using AI technologies. 

You mentioned standardisation a lot. How important was it that the ITU came up with its 6G vision in 2023?  

It’s a very important milestone. The International Telecommunications Union has participation from around the world, and you have all the regions that have standards organizations (like ATIS and ETSI) participate and contribute to the vision that was developed. 

So, approving that vision, which then outlines some of the technology trends and use cases, becomes a guiding force for the 3GPP standards organisation to say, “Okay, based on these requirements, I now know how to develop my first 6G specification”. From that standpoint, it’s very important.

I had the personal feeling at MWC24 that companies would see 6G more as a natural topic of discussion than “the new toy that will make futuristic wonders” from last year. Do you share the feeling?

There are a couple of ways to think about this. Last year, there was a lot of enthusiasm about all the different things 6G could do that could be brought to network or to service.

Throughout 2023, what happened is that operators said, “you know, I’m still in the midst of rolling out 5G and recouping my investments. So, granted that everybody’s now agreed that there will be a 6G, we don’t want to see another peak of billions of dollars of investment in 6G.” 

So, it goes back to what I commented earlier: the majority of the first release we anticipate is going to be evolutionary, continuing from 5G. And then maybe a few research areas that are sort of unique, perhaps related to sensing, XR, and AI, which will grow as we move forward. 

That’s why I think you’re seeing these big OEMs focus a little bit more on the business aspects rather than the technology aspects this year. Perhaps in 2025, once 3GPP becomes a little bit more ingrained and commits to specific areas of innovation, more ideas will come to the surface. 

Thinking ahead, what are the goals this year for InterDigital regarding 6G research?

Within the research and innovation organization, we have a wireless lab, a video lab and an AI lab. So, the combination of the three gives us a very good opportunity to look at things end-to-end in terms of how a video stream can be developed in the most efficient way with the most compressed bits but with the highest quality. 

And yet it can be transported over the network, which is where in the wireless field, we work really hard to make sure we can carry lots of bits at the lowest cost; and then build AI, or use AI tools or layer that on top, to build the intelligence to even further optimise or even have a paradigm shift in some areas. 

We have been implementing AI in our radio technology for many years now, and that’s paid us very good dividends. We believe that that’s sort of our unique proposition we bring to the table. And I think in terms of our goals, you know, just continuing to solve the problems for the industry and work with our partners, peers, and academic institutions to bring the best solutions so that we continue to evolve 5G and get to 6G.

Featured image by InterDigital

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