Exclusives : Runners and Riders in the Race for 6G Leadership

Runners and Riders in the Race for 6G Leadership

In the race to realise the 6G ecosystem, six countries or regions have emerged as favorites to kick off the new network in the coming decade.

The United States, China, South Korea, Japan, Finland, and Europe are at the forefront of innovation and establishing plans for the next decade.

South Korea has aggressive goals

It is no surprise that the first country to roll out 5G is now planning to be the first to deploying 6G. That is exactly what South Korea intends.

In a meeting in August 2020, Chung Sye-kyun, the Korean prime minister, announced that the country will invest 200 billion won (US$170 million) in research and development of 6G by 2026. The government wants the technology ready for deployment by 2028, two years ahead of the consensus timeframe for 6G.

“In addition, we will create a strong research base for industrial growth through the development of prototypes that can be utilised for localisation of 6G core components and equipment, support for voucher-style R&D of promising small and medium-sized enterprises, and the cultivation of 6G top-quality human resources,” Sye-kyun said during the meeting.

The detailed study argues that South Korea’s government “needs to take the lead in securing original technology” being developed in the country. It also recommends greater participation in international standardization bodies, mainly the ITU.

Japan seems ready to play

Like its neighbour, Japan has also started research on a Beyond 5G roadmap. The Ministry of International Affairs and Communications published an initial strategy to address the technology in June 2020.

The document specifies measures to ensure the early development of B5G and 6G in the country and sets milestones for deployment. These divide into three phases:

  • Research and Development: Promote R&D for cutting-edge core technologies, ease spectrum regulation for R&D, create tax incentives for R&D and strengthen manufacturing bases.
  • Standardisation: Encourage standardisation activities, collaborate with strategic partners and develop a mechanism for strategic activities on intellectual property and standardisation.
  • Deployment: Deploy 5G and fiber-optic networks, maintain continuous cybersecurity functionality and establish use cases for solving challenges.

According to the document, the government expects Beyond-5G to add US$400 billion of value to Japan’s economy over ten years.

“The first five years [of the project] are critical, as such promoting intensive efforts and utilizing Japan’s strengths in the Advanced Implementation Phase [2020 to 2025] must be done with a sense of urgency,” the study recommends. The mid-term goal is to present Japan’s progress during the Osaka-Kansai Expo in 2025.

First steps towards the Terahertz band in the United States

So far, the US administration has not set an official program like South Korea or Japan. However, some intriguing activities are taking place.

In March 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it would open spectrum above 95 GHz to experimental licenses, making the United States the first country to do so. (6G is expected to operate on the Terahertz band, among others). Companies and universities will have up to ten years to conduct experiments in this spectrum band, according to the FCC. The commission also made 21.2 gigahertz of spectrum available for use by unlicensed devices.

One year later, amid a trade war with China, Congress approved the “Secure 5G and Beyond Act of 2020,” which demands that the president develops a “strategy to ensure security of next-generation wireless communications systems and infrastructure”.

The strategy must detail the following undertakings:

  • To facilitate the rollout of 5G and future generations of wireless communications.
  • To assess the risks to and identify core security principles of 5G and future generations.
  • To promote responsible global development and deployment of 5G and future generations.
  • To address risks to the national security of the United States during the development and global deployment of 5G and future generations.

What China has in store

In November 2019 China announced the country would establish “a national 6G technology research and development promotion working group and an overall expert group,” according to the Ministry of Science and Technology.

“The overall expert group from universities, research institutes, and enterprises is a total of 37 experts, mainly responsible for 6G technical research layout recommendations and technical demonstration, for major decision-making advice and recommendations,” the Ministry said in a statement.

Although the government’s detailed plan remains unknown, Chinese companies are already digging into 6G. Huawei, for example, established a research operation devoted to the next generation of wireless in Ottawa, Canada, in 2019. ZTE and China Unicom, a local operator, signed an agreement this year to cooperate in 6G-related technology and standardisation.

Finland and the first research group on 6G in the world

Finland is known as an innovation hub, and it is easy to understand why. Companies like Nokia, Sampo, and Nest were born in the country, and the government has even created a specific visa for international startups to grow in Finland.

Not surprisingly, then, the world’s first coordinated 6G research initiative was launched there in 2018. The 6G Flagship is led by the University of Oulu and is formed by members across the world from universities to private companies.

The program has a budget of €51 million (US$300 million) for the 2018 to 2026 period, partly consisting of government funding.

Even though the 6G Flagship is not a comprehensive deployment program, it will initially focus on research in four areas: wireless connectivity; devices and circuit technology; distributed computing; and applications and services.

New European program on the horizon

In December, the European Union will announce the end of Horizon 2020, its €76 billion program devoted to the research of technology in Europe.

But the continent is set to launch a successor: Horizon Europe, which should run from 2021 to 2027 and serve as a driver of innovation while enabling its constituent countries to compete in the global market.

The program will not focus on 6G specifically, but it will take advantage of the network’s possibilities to develop solutions in areas like health, smart cities, agriculture, and the environment.

However, Horizon Europe is suffering from side effects as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic: the proposed €100 billion budget has been suffering cuts amid financial strains and may end up around €80 billion.




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