NIST Expert: More Than the Name, Use Cases Will Define 6G

October 31, 2023

Written by Caio Castro
Credit: Jason Stoughton/NIST
CATEGORY: Exclusives

Nada Golmie has built a solid career in the telecommunications area. A research engineer at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) since 1993, she has worked for the Wireless Networks Division in the Communications Technology Laboratory and serves now as the NextG Channel Model Alliance chair.

So, when 6GWorld had the chance to catch up with her during the last 6GSymposium Fall 2023, it was a no-brainer to sit down at the table and talk about the future generations of mobile internet.

In this interview, Golmie explains NIST’s work and shares her visions on what kind of 6G technology we are heading to.

6GWorld: For the folks who are not familiar with NIST, can you explain what the agency does?

Nada: NIST’s mission is to advance measurement science. For communications technology, we work on the measurements, on the metrology that is needed to help design, develop, and deploy communication systems.

And often, what it means is that not only do we just evaluate communication systems, but we also develop the tools and the instruments needed to do the measurements and the performance.

For example, about ten years we stood up ago a program on propagation modelling and measurement and developed the sounder to take the measurements. And then we worked with the community to develop the models that were needed for different technologies.

6GWorld: Why is standardisation important in our daily lives?

Nada: They matter for everything we do, whether it’s buying a cup of coffee or flying an airplane or using the computer. You need standards in order to make sure that what you have is useful. So, standards basically affect everything we do – although we don’t necessarily think about them. Unless we are at NIST (laughter).

6GWorld: How is NIST helping advance the 6G research?

Nada: At NIST, we work with measurements, metrology, research and development, and for us, it’s a continuum. We don’t stop and say, “Okay, now we’re gonna work on 6G” or “Now we’re doing 5G.” For us, the Gs are just sort of a marketing term that the industry uses, and the community decides when to standardise something and when to roll something else.

Our job is to support that by providing insights from the measurements, insights from the research and development work we do.

So, I would say that we don’t call it 6G, but we call it the next G – although sometimes, you know, people get tired of hearing: “Oh, I’m working on the next G.” You’re still working on the next G? You’ve been doing this for ten years!. But we do work on the long term so that when the industry needs the measurements, when the industry needs the information, it’s all available.

6GWorld: You lead the NextG Channel Model Alliance. How different is it to develop channel models for 5G and 6G (a technology still in its infancy)?

Nada: So, at the moment, basically, we don’t know exactly what 6G is going to look like. We have some thoughts about what new use cases or new applications we might want to support.

People talk a lot about sensing and the use of communication signals to also do sensing; incorporating mixed signals so that we are better aware of what is going on in the environment, for example, so that we can provide a lot more information given these new applications or new use cases.

It’s not because measures are different for 6G… the RF propagation measurements usually are very much for the use case that you need. So that is why, for example, we have been looking at joint communication and sensing as a use case – but from an RF propagation perspective, the signal is the same, right? It’s very much about the use case – where we put the transmitter, where we put the receiver. Is it more a monostatic case or a bistatic case?

6GWorld: Do you think we will use Terahertz in 6G? Or is it more plausible that we’ll go mainly with other ranges, such as millimetre wave or the 7-15Ghz band?

Nada: Given that the industry is talking about sensing applications, I think Terahertz makes sense. But I think it is the mid-band or the 7-24 GHz band that seems to be perhaps where the industry is gravitating towards.

However, from this point of view, we look forward to what would be possible in two years. We are building a sub-Terahertz sounder to try to push the limit on what is possible.

Although we are working on it, it doesn’t mean that we believe we will use Terahertz in 6G. We don’t want to make the mistake people made for 5G when they associated, especially in the United States, 5G equals millimetre wave or millimetre wave equals 5G. We don’t want to limit this technology to one frequency band.

I believe that whatever 6G is going to take advantage of, whatever is possible and whatever people can build through now, maybe Terahertz will not be available tomorrow. But unless people like us work on it, it won’t ever be available.

That is why we will always be a little bit ahead, and hopefully, at some point in the future, it will be available – but again, from a technology point of view and for the application of sensing, Terahertz makes sense because of the short wavelength.

6GWorld: What do you expect for 2024 in terms of projects and goals for research at NIST?

Nada: Our plans are basically to have a vision for what the industry needs in five or ten years, because when the industry is ready to standardise something, the measurements need to be available, and the models need to be developed in order to use them. Otherwise, it’s just too late, and no one is going to allow us a couple of years to do the measurements, figure out things in the lab and provide the standards.

We have a large program about joint communication and sensing that started a couple of years back. Last year, the Next G Alliance formed a joint communication and sensing group, and we’re working with them on providing them with propagation investments and models.

NIST is one of a few other companies that are conducting measurements and developing models. We have programs to look at open radio access networks and looking at open source, putting together an open source platform so that we can look at more security resiliency with respect to ORAN technologies.

Again, we are working with the community. We are trying not to reinvent the wheel if we don’t have to. And we are happy to work with whoever has the pieces of this big puzzle.

Featured image by Jason Stoughton/NIST

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