The race for 6G has officially started: Countries and regions like South Korea, Japan, China, and the European Union have already announced initial strategies to develop the next generation of mobile connectivity. Now the United States and Canada are joining the club.
In October, the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) launched the Next G Alliance, an initiative to lay out the foundations of 6G in North America. Formed by 26 members from the United States and Canada, the group plans to publish a common roadmap in 2021.
The founding members are AT&T, Bell Canada, Charter Communications, Ciena, Cisco, Ericsson, Facebook, Google, Hewlett Packard, Intel, InterDigital, JMA Wireless, Keysight Technologies, LG, Mavenir, Microsoft, Mitre, Nokia, Qualcomm Technologies Inc., Samsung, T-Mobile, Telnyx, TELUS, UScellular, Verizon, and VMware.
In this interview with 6GWorld Susan Miller, President and CEO at ATIS, and Mike Nawrocki, VP Technology and Solutions, detail how the Next G Alliance will work, its major priorities, and where the association wants to get to in the future.
Could you talk more about the Next G Alliance? Why create an initiative focused on 6G in North America?
Susan: ATIS has been landscaping what other regions of the globe are doing. As we know, there have been lots of announcements, lots of ambitious plans that are in play for launching 6G research and development initiatives. We felt it was critical that North American industries step forward to create a roadmap to the next decade of strong global mobile technology leadership. Ultimately, although it is not by a long shot, our objective will be to influence the U.S. government funding priorities and actions that will incentivise the industry.
And we hope to lay a foundation for a very vibrant marketplace for products and services globally. There are definitely other goals and objectives to the Next G Alliance, but it will be one piece of establishing North American leadership whereby we will really want the government to understand what industry’s technology priorities are for 6G and beyond.
Mike: We did a great deal of benchmarking and assessment of what was happening around other parts of the globe. We have seen what is happening in Asia. We looked at the EU Horizon 2020 work, which is more oriented around research ideas and research platforms
But when we looked at the North American model, we really felt the opportunity for success was looking more across the entire life cycle: from research to development, manufacturing standards, leadership, market readiness. It is really more of the holistic approach that ultimately would result in a more vibrant marketplace.
It is interesting to note that in other countries is the government who starts the conversation on 6G. Why is it different in the U.S.?
Susan: You know, some of it comes from the nature and character of the economies in different regions. We know that, for example, in China, the government plays a very proactive role when it comes to what is going to be achieved with technology. Now, here in the U.S., and this has been true from all of our discussions with the key government agencies, we heard: “We really want the industry to stand something up. We really would appreciate industry taking the lead.” And we did, we saw a bit of a void in terms of the opportunity for industry to lead, and to enter into a collaboration to say what is important when it comes to 6G and beyond.
Obviously, when we were building this whole initiative, we did some outreach in advance and there was that steady message of “it would be great if industry took the lead.” So that helped us to know that we were on the right track in terms of industry leading versus government directing.
Mike: If we look at the U.S. government, for example, it is very much focused on 5G at this point, but when we look at windows of five years, eight years, ten years out, that is an area where the industry can really lead and then work and collaborate with government.
So the government is funding a lot of basic research right now, across many different areas because you are never quite sure where innovation will come from. But when you look at this applied research space of five to eight years, it is very often driven by industry.
What is the state of 6G research and development in the U.S.? Is there an aligned vision from government, companies, and academia of how to get to 6G?
Mike: When you are looking out five years, eight years or more I do not think it is ever possible to have this kind of an aligned vision.
Standards groups, ITU, other groups that have an international presence, they are just now starting to define a vision for 6G. So one of the things we want to develop in terms of the specific initiative is a Next G roadmap. Part of that will be defining a vision, but at this point I do not think there is a single view or a small number of views of 6G.
We hope that the development of a national Next G roadmap will lead to that vision and lead to a number of steps, whether it will be business or policy-oriented.
Susan: I think it is also fair to say that what we know from the industry is the fact that they have already moved beyond the basic research when it comes to 6G. What we are talking about relative to the Next G Alliance is really at the applied research focus.
Clearly, this is well-timed in terms of readiness to take on, looking at 6G and beyond. But I think what becomes very important in balancing the industry interests is that we look at it from that perspective of all the steps that need to occur for real market readiness.
We clearly wanted to move beyond research for research’s sake, and we really wanted to focus on research and all the phases in between: The development, the manufacturing, the standardization. The ultimate outcome is market readiness.
What are the other fields where the Next G Alliance can help?
Mike: Beyond research funding and priorities, we will look at manufacturing developments. And so there may be some very bold ideas around different ways to incentivise the private industry in terms of manufacturing developments.
We will look at standards, but more from a high-level strategic field, to engage the international community in terms of driving standards and how government and industry work together in that way.
What are some ways to incentivise deployment? We would probably be talking about things like new antenna designs, very dense small cell deployment and so on. What can the industry and government put together in advance to create a good landing place for 6G? How do we create a seamless customer experience, perceptions for customers? How does that work across many types of networks?
The final area would be having a sense of what components will be needed for 6G. I think that the general components and ideas probably exist. What needs to really be developed is how to integrate all that into a vibrant marketplace.
How will the Alliance deal with policymakers and political conversations regarding 6G?
Susan: I do not mean to have it sound as simple as it is, but we will have to do advocacy and we will have to do education. The government agencies, Congress, they are all very focused on 5G right now and how to enable 5G and the marketplace. But we will have to advocate, we will have to communicate. We will have to educate when it comes to staying connected to the government and having them appreciate what the industry is thinking about 6G and beyond.
If we do that well, I believe we will have not only an aligned industry view but a much more aligned government reception to what would benefit the 6G marketplace.
We have not always seen that [movement] throughout the introduction of 5G. So, hopefully, we will improve the government’s understanding of what would benefit North America and the U.S. in terms of achieving real leadership when it comes to 6G.
Mike: If we put ourselves in the place of the government, they would very much appreciate an aligned industry view. How does the industry see the most important research priorities and what are the core technology areas where the North American region can lead? What needs to happen in advance to make sure that when these technologies are market-ready, that
The Next G Alliance is focused on North America. Will there be a collaboration with other countries?
Susan: We have looked at what other countries have done. We have looked at other models to undertake the kind of alignment we are hoping to achieve with the Next G Alliance. We believe there will be a basis for collaboration, for example with the Europe and the Horizon projects.
As you might expect, the vendor community is interested in what they can achieve in terms of scale. Global solutions are best for everyone. We expect that we will have to collaborate. And if you look at the companies that are founding members, they are all global companies, and they are probably participating in initiatives in other parts of the globe.
We hope to have strong collaborative efforts with other parts of the globe. But we do think that this market is unique and, as such, the goal is to do what is needed relative to North America.
Can anybody become a member of the Next G Alliance? How does it work?
Susan: Right now, founding members are joining by invitation, and to be a founding member you have to provide products, services, software, or applications for use in the U.S. commercial, private or government networks. Or you can operate a communications network or provide multimedia or cloud services in the North American market.
We will have research institutions who are engaged in 6G research programs. That is both academic and non-profit. And by invitation, industry organisations who share common goals with the Next G Alliance and are deemed to be an asset to the success of the initiative. We want stakeholders at the table who are going to contribute to the direction of the Next G Alliance.
How do you envision 6G in North America in the future?
Mike: I guess the first thing is we see 6G really building on 5G. As you look at each successful mobile generation technology, you will notice less of a replacement model. In the future, you will see 6G infrastructure building on certain capabilities of 5G. As we talk about some of the enablers, you will see much more use of those capabilities.
There will probably be more customer preference and less need for direct customer interaction. Things will be much more predictive in nature. And that is where technologies like AI come into play. You will see devices, everyday objects becoming part of the 6G ecosystem. We will need to communicate and work together with customer’s needs and so on.
I guess the last point is I think we will increasingly see not just verticals relying on 6G, but much more integration across vertical markets. There will be less of a division between different vertical markets, like transportation, healthcare, energy, all those things really start to be woven together by 6G solutions.