NIST Highlights 108 Missing Pieces For Next Generation Communications

December 7, 2023

Written by Alex Lawrence
CATEGORY: Exclusives

Last month the USA’s NIST [National Institute for Science & technology] published a vital piece of analysis jointly with the National Science Foundation and think-tank Corner Alliance. The document, the NextG Communications Research and Development Gaps Report, aims to highlight key issues that the current R&D programmes are missing.

The authors say it “describes several of the significant technology gaps for R&D entities to consider in their long-term planning to support sustained innovation of NextG systems.”

The 61-page document highlights 108 R&D gaps in a wide range of different areas:

  • Hardware and Higher Frequency
  • Spectrum Science and Sharing
  • Joint Communications and Sensing [JSAC]
  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
  • Data Availability, Use, and Privacy
  • NextG Network Architectures
  • Non-Terrestrial Network
  • Sustainable and Energy Efficient Networks

Strikingly, it also highlights the importance of equity and design both in R&D and in the design of next generation systems. The US government (cross-party) has emphasised it is keen on making sure the next generation of telecoms bridges digital and economic divides rather than expanding them.

While it may therefore be no surprise that this is given mention in a document drawn up in part by government agencies, it makes the important point that inclusive design “includes considering the needs of underserved communities in the design and development process and ensuring that products and services are accessible and affordable for everyone.”

Accessibility and affordability arguably are critical for the telcos, too. Designing with cost constraints in mind is likely lead to a very different set of outcomes, but one which may also support business models which enable more rapid rollout of 6G systems and equipment. For example, if JSAC access points are designed to be accessible and affordable for consumers and SMEs, then it opens up the possibility that end users can bear the cost of rollout.

That said, it is not and was never intended to be a comprehensive study on every area. Co-author Nada Golmie of NIST commented, “Yes, we could have spent more time on, let’s say, quantum, AI, or cybersecurity. We tried not to venture too much into those areas where, if we wanted to do them justice, we needed to do a lot more. We just felt like these are covered by different communities.”

There is a section referring to the CHIPS Act, which highlights that some points may or may not have been covered that the Act addresses. This is largely because clarity over what types of research and activity would be supported by different funding bodies has only relatively recently been specified and was not clear during the research phase of the paper.

The authors are also, very explicitly, not setting out any kind of vision.

“This is not a vision statement, this is not a roadmap,” Golmie said. “This is just presenting pieces that need attention. I think out of this many visions could be developed. I think it’s fair to let people use these blocks to construct whatever they want.”

The reason Golmie gives is quite refreshing. “We took this approach because agreeing on a vision becomes sort of a consensus. We didn’t say, you know, “this is good, this is bad,” we just took whatever different ideas were presented, because in order to make sense of a vision, you have to put it together and then you have to say, “I like this, this does fit and this doesn’t fit.” We didn’t want to do that.”

“We tried to also go as far as people’s imagination – you know, we didn’t say, “Okay, this is 6G and this isn’t.” I mean, hopefully some of these problems, if they’re solved, could be part of 5G Advanced, 6G, or whatever. It doesn’t matter,” she observed.

“We tried to just say bring some attention to some of these issues, whether you’re a funding agency or in industry, whether you’re an academic. “

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