As 6G initiatives roll out across the globe, the United States has launched another joint project to develop the next generation of mobile connectivity. The recently launched 6G@UT Research Centre at the University of Texas, Austin, promises to shed light on the possibilities to make technology a reality.
Formed by five founding companies – Samsung, AT&T, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, and InterDigital – the initiative aims to delve into four key topics for the evolution of 6G: deeply embedded machine learning, pervasive sensing, new spectrum and topologies, and network slicing and sharing.
Each member is required to choose at least two topics to fund for the next three years within the programme, which happens under the University of Texas’ Wireless Networking & Communications Group.
Then the companies’ researchers and the UT’s faculty members and students will work in partnership to develop wireless-specific machine learning algorithms, advanced sensing technologies, and core networking innovations that might be the backbone of 6G.
While 6G@UT is in its beginning stages, the founding companies have already started planning their research. More concrete research themes are still to be determined, but it’s already possible to see where some of the members are heading.
“Our focus is mostly on the machine learning and the sensing side of the research. But other industry partners have other foci too,” said Donald Butts, Senior Director of Strategy at InterDigital, in an interview with 6GWorld.
“The 6G@UT is [an opportunity] to focus on topics – not just Terahertz and the increasing spectrum, that may not have as big of an impact in 6G either – but to focus on what I think will be the core technology for 6G, which is artificial intelligence. AI was first introduced in 5G, but there wasn’t a holistic approach to it, and I think this [holistic approach to AI] will be a big piece of 6G.”
Although AI might play a bigger role in the future evolution of 6G, the research topics, he explained, are intertwined.
“This is not siloed research,” Butts said. “We’re looking at different things. One of the big problems [we’re facing with creating data sets] is having access to data. A lot of people are using different simulation tools to do that right now, but it doesn’t really simulate real-world effects. So, is there something that we can do to create or expand these data sets so that they can be used for training ML models?”
According to Butts, the 6G@UT collaborative component will be key for the development of the technology itself and for the United States to establish leadership in the 6G telecommunications sector, with research funding being one of the key areas where the US administration could catch up with China’s 5G lead.
A call to action issued by the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) in May 2020 urged the government and the private sector to engage in 6G research as soon as possible “if the US wishes to advance its technological leadership over the next decade.”
European Union-funded initiatives have been looking into 6G components since at least 2017, while countries like Finland, South Korea, and Japan have also made public their interest in the next generation of mobile connectivity.
In April 2021, the Biden administration announced $2 billion committed to “strengthen competitiveness in the digital field by investing in research, development, testing, and deployment of secure networks and advanced ICT,” including 5G and 6G.
“I think one of the biggest challenges with 6G is that it’ll be more nationalistic in some ways. So it’s a big challenge,” Butts commented.
“I think it’s up to the industry partners to push for coordination and drive each of those initiatives. [There should be a mindset focussing on] How we can create these common standards. Otherwise, there’s a risk of 6G being uncoordinated and having different standards in different countries, which will just create problems.”
Where Is 6G Going?
In the expert’s opinion, the industry will see a shift from what 5G has been delivering or conceived. Especially from a focus on reducing latency and increasing bandwidth towards examining how to use the new capabilities to enable better experiences.
“You know, AI will have a piece of that [enabling better experiences]; computing will play a big role as well; virtualisation. All these different technologies will have a big piece in driving that holistic experience, and you’ll go from experiences that were non-real-time applications to real-time use cases. I think the bigger shift is how you can create some things more personalised in real-time for someone,” Butts said.