Without a proper definition yet, 6G presents more questions than answers. As part of Fierce Wireless’ 5G Blitz Week Spring, a panel called “Future Gazing: Looking Ahead to a 6G Future” tried to answer the most fundamental ones, including the reasoning behind addressing it now, with the deployment of 5G just under way.
“I wish there was a way to flip the switch and move to the next generation, but that doesn’t happen in wireless[…] As you send the current generation into the market, the next generation goes in the lab for research,” said Kaniz Mahdi, Vice President of Advanced Technologies at VMware, which specialises in cloud-computing and virtualisation software and services.
Mahdi brought up additional factors, suggesting there’s new territory being charted as we speak, not with regard to 6G, but 5G. She called 5G the first generation to enable interaction between humans, machines, and cyber-physical systems, with interactive real-time communication being one primary target.
On that note, citing potential productivity gains from projected improvements to virtual collaboration technologies, keynote speaker John Smee discussed coupling augmented/ virtual reality with low-latency edge processing. The Vice President of Engineering at Qualcomm, Smee called it the merging of physical, digital, and virtual worlds as 5G gets leveraged to a greater degree.
“In our physical world, we’re connecting more and more devices from smartphones to tablets to laptops and a huge number of ways in which connectivity is not also just going between people but connecting more machines,” he said.
Meanwhile, regarding the evolution and expansion of the human-computer interface, it “is core to the virtual world and this intersection of the physical and virtual world, and the physical and digital world, is all coalescing around this new human interface,” he continued. “So, the 5G-to-6G transition is a huge opportunity to bring new interfaces and how those new interfaces interact to enable a better-connected society.”
Smee listed the merging of worlds as one of several key research vectors feeding both the evolution of 5G and the impending development of 6G. The others were coordinated spectrum sharing, wireless AI/ Machine Learning, new radio designs, scalable network architecture, and communications resiliency. Mahdi took the opportunity to describe the Next G Alliance, which strives to lay out a foundation for 6G in North America and of which VMware is a part, as exploring much the same subjects.
“It’s looking at how to define the next chapter in the evolution of 5G and how to make the operational efficiencies and optimisations for deployment of 5G in a way that can confidently deliver the promise of 5G while also paving the path to 6G… This is the first time in the evolution of wireless history that you have the hyperscalers, the telecommunication service providers, and the telecommunication vendors[…] drawing a common blueprint for the national roadmap for 6G; and the roadmap basically is an 8-10 year effort,” Mahdi said referencing the projected 2030 launch of the next generation.
“6G Should Be Human-Centric”
Europe’s 6G-focused Hexa-X project was also well-represented. Project Lead Mikko Uusitalo of Nokia Bell Labs participated in the panel, while Dissemination/ Standardisation Leader Mauro Renato Boldi delivered the opening keynote. In his presentation, Boldi noted “6G should not be yet another radio technology providing ‘10x’ performance; It should rather respond to future society needs.”
“From our point of view in Europe, it is absolutely mandatory to confirm that 6G should be human-centric,” Boldi added.
Mahdi added to that idea in turn, later on in the event. She said the “future of human experiences creates the demand-side landscape,” which leads to the evolution of networks. Ultimately, she revisited the concept of remote collaboration.
“The entire medium of interaction is going to change and when the medium of interaction changes, the demands it puts on capacity and bandwidth for the network is going to be extremely, extremely different than what we have configured in 4G and even with 5G early [3rd Generation Partnership Project; 3GPP] releases,” she said.
Monisha Ghosh, CTO of the Federal Communications Commission, suggested 5G will “bleed into” 6G and there won’t necessarily be a specific point at which the next generation begins. Smee, on the other hand, predicted a clean-slate approach versus an evolution, but interpreted it as more of a dynamic of “interplay” between generations.
“Just as we saw with 4G-5G, there’s that evolution and overlap. We take a very broad view to overall technology evolution and what comes together in the 2030 era and how connectivity intersects with computing, how does it intersect with the evolution of the cloud,” Smee said. “So it’s very important to look at the adjacent technologies. I would call it the supply side of everything happening globally; and then we intersect that with what’s feasible to be deployed in 2030 and we look at that in terms of how does that all come together.”
Feature image courtesy of WeAre (via Shutterstock).