Immersion, AI and Reliability: Next G Alliance Details Roadmap to 6G

February 9, 2022

Written by Caio Castro
6G World Map

The North American initiative Next G Alliance has released its vision for how 6G will look like when it becomes a reality and the technical and societal needs future networks should address.

The document, developed over the course of six months as an effort from 80 North American companies, expects 6G standards to be finalised and 6G to be commercially released by 2030.

The paper also details goals in six areas:

  • Digital World Experience,
  • Cost Efficient Solutions,
  • Distributed Cloud and Communications Systems,
  • AI-Native Network,
  • Sustainability, and
  • Trust, Security, and Resilience.

This is the second deliverable the Next G Alliance has published since it launched in 2020. “The concept behind the roadmap is basically to look across all the drivers – which include societal and government drivers, market and application needs – and put all that together into a vision that goes well beyond just technology,” Mike Nawrocki, Next G Alliance Managing Director and ATIS’ VP Technology and Solutions, said in an interview with 6GWorld.

While the paper mainly addresses North America, Nawrocki said there must be room for both regional and global requirements. “We’re driving this effort from the standpoint that every region has its specific needs, whether you’re talking about values, societal, market, or application needs. We’re hoping that every region can help to drive this [effort] towards a successful 6G marketplace.”

Next, we go through each of the six goals in detail – you can download the full roadmap here.

Trust, Security, and Resilience in 6G

According to the report, as 6G enables new use cases and technologies, it is imperative that the network can be trusted. Service availability, security and privacy, data protection, and resilience – that is, the ability of a network to work regardless of faults or outages – are the four pillars that the industry should seek to ensure a reliable service, the paper points out.

Some of the use cases the Next G Alliance expects would heavily rely on these pillars, including sensing, use of AI and edge cloud systems, and critical applications that demand high security and dependability.

The roadmap acknowledges, however, that there are obstacles to overcome. “At the technical level, established practices exist for individual technology components based on experience with earlier network generations. 6G brings new challenges in the form of technical issues at a systems level, where many more interlinked technologies will be operating at much higher processing rates,” the document reads.

Digital World Experiences

Sharing digital tastes with your friends, feeling the touch of someone online, meeting face-to-face virtually and other immersive situations will define how humans communicate in the next ten years, according to the paper.

These multi-sensory experiences also encompass industry-led solutions like digital twins.

Among the areas foreseen for innovation in the digital world experience environment, the Next G Alliance highlighted cyber-physical technologies (innovative sensing, fusion technologies), knowledge systems (AI/ML for task automation), extreme automation (compute, communications, orchestration), and platform enablers (personalisation technologies) as drivers for 6G in this field.

“The cross-domain nature of 6G digital world experiences calls for open and interoperable standards that bring together several application and technology domains. Open standards enable interoperability and promote technology reuse, with attendant benefits for sustainability,” the document states.

Cost Efficient Solutions

Deployment and implementation costs pose a fundamental challenge for telecoms and governments if they want to see 6G come to life, the report assesses. This is especially true for North America, where rural and remote areas concentrate considerable underserved populations.

“Cost efficiency may act as a catalyst for providing digital equity, which for subscribers can be defined as the satisfaction of three conditions: financial affordability, physical accessibility, and geographic availability of network services,” the document reads.

At the same time, getting access to devices such as smartphones will play a significant role in making 6G a democratic network. But you have to take a holistic look at the entire supply chain to really make the ecosystem affordable, the Next G Alliance board explains.

“Cost reductions are one of our ambitious goals, and I think that figuring out ways of reducing these costs will help a lot with digital equity. We need to look at this across the whole network, starting with devices all the way to backhaul systems, the core networks,” Doug Castor, InterDigital and Next G Alliance Vice Chair National 6G Roadmap Working Group, said in an interview with 6GWorld.

Other fields to pay greater attention to are ensuring a level of independence in the semiconductors sector, availability of spectrum to avoid fragmentation challenges and permit multi-band aggregation, and specific solutions for urban, rural, and indoor coverage.

Distributed Cloud and Communications Systems

According to the roadmap, cloud and virtualisation technologies are going to be fundamental components of 6G, enabling separation of hardware and software. With that, the Next G Alliance expects an increase in flexibility, performance, service capabilities, resiliency, and productivity.

“6G systems will feature cloud-native capabilities that rely on cloud technologies”, the paper reads. “A 6G network compute fabric enables the seamless combination of compute and data resources and services from or in the device, edge, and/or cloud deep to optimise the performance and energy efficiency across 6G applications.”

AI-Native Network

Among all the goals set by the Next G Alliance roadmap to 6G, one of the most demanding could be designing a network with AI intrinsically embedded to it, in Castor’s opinion. “To fully do that would mean there’d be a lot of big changes to the standards. And making such changes can be very challenging,” he pointed out.

“Obviously the standards are going to evolve but to rethink how we develop standards may need to be done for AI-native wireless networks. I don’t know whether the standards groups would be willing to make those dramatic changes.”

The report states that an AI-Native 6G system will leverage AI techniques – like machine learning, deep learning, neural networks – for the design, deployment, management, and operation of various network and device functions. The expected result: increased robustness, performance, and efficiencies to bring economic impact.

According to the roadmap, three aspects are imperative to ensure the North American leadership in the 6G-AI universe:

  • The 6G wireless standards need to be developed in an AI-Native way, with an open architecture to allow applications of a rich set of AI algorithms.
  • Open datasets need to be made available to the research and development community to expedite the application of AI.
  • Operators need to embrace AI as their new tool for increasing efficiency and quality of service.

The document expects an initial application of AI, optimising individual functions or modules, by 2025, with advanced applications by 2030.

Sustainability in 6G

As concerns with the environment deepen, network design must follow the UN’s sustainability goals to reduce carbon footprint and energy consumption, making 6G a green network, the roadmap points out.

While the document specifies that researchers must address increased energy efficiency across infrastructure devices and reduced carbon footprint of network infrastructure hardware and software, it also acknowledges that materials will play a significant role in making 6G more sustainable.

“[Ways in which 6G can contribute include] Reduced non-recyclable materials in devices and programs to better reuse/reclaim material from unserviceable devices […] and efficient use of natural resources and reduction in waste and pollution in industrial processes through improved technologies, monitoring, and intelligent control,” the paper reads.

Looking Ahead

Now that a structured vision has been released, the Next G Alliance will keep researching and creating bridges with the industry, academia, and the government, Nawrocki said.

“Our working groups are digging into technologies and applications, and we expect that in the next few months we can come back with even more defined research areas, government drivers, recommended actions so that we have the foundation.”

Another field where the initiative plans to continue being active is at the international stage, contributing to discussions around 6G standards.

“We will be contributing to [the ITU vision “IMT 2030 and beyond”] going forward. It’s part of the international consensus-building for what the 6G vision will be. Our membership now has input to provide in there, so that will be part of what we do going forward this year,” concluded Castor.

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