Smart Networks and Services Partnership to Help Lead Europe into 6G

March 18, 2021

Written by Ryan Szporer
Europe 6G

A follow-up to Europe’s 5G Public-Private Partnership (5G-PPP), Smart Networks and Services (SNS) is poised to pick up where its predecessor left off, with at least one major difference. Instead of innovating for 5G, SNS will focus on 6G.

Last Call for 5G-PPP

According to 5G Infrastructure Association (5G IA) Chairman of the Board Colin Willcock, the last 5G-PPP projects have just started. Meanwhile the SNS partnership, which plans to invest €900 million in creating fundamental 6G technology, is the next step, with the 5G IA representing the private arm of the partnerships. The European Commission (EC) represents the public, with both bodies jointly helping to run the initiative.

“We’ve just launched three groups of [5G-PPP] projects, ICT-41, ICT-42, and ICT-52. ICT-52 are the first 6G projects. They are trying to be the bridge between 5G work that was done in 5G-PPP and 6G going forward and equally trying to bridge between the current partnership 5G-PPP and the new partnership, Smart Networks and Services,” he said, talking to 6GWorldTM.

As an illustration of its broad scope, ICT-52 included such projects as DAEMON (Network Intelligence for aDAptive and sElf-Learning MObile Networks) and RISE-6G (Reconfigurable Intelligent Sustainable Environments for 6G Wireless Networks). Perhaps most significantly though, ICT-52 also included Hexa-X, which is billed as the flagship European 6G project.

According to Willcock, the plan is for Hexa-X and other 6G-centric projects to lay the foundation for SNS and 6G in Europe in general. There are going to be a few years of overlap, with Hexa-X scheduled to run for 2.5 years from January 2021 and Willcock projecting the first SNS projects to start towards the end of 2022. Asked about the difficulties of assessing 6G needs without 5G having been completely rolled out, Willcock acknowledged it could be a problem. However, pointing to the increased need for digital communication during the pandemic, he said there’s a good idea already.

“It’s clearly going to be a natural increase in requirements of capacity, latency, robustness, but where 6G will go to the next level, that’s still a little bit of an open issue. There are suggested use cases, but they’re really just that,” he said. “One shouldn’t necessarily take them too literally at this point, but, then to be fair, that was exactly the same with 3G, 4G, and 5G.”

Bridging 5G and 6G

In that sense, it’s not so much SNS taking over from 5G-PPP as a handover of the baton. Willcock went on to say that, even though it’s time to start looking into 6G, it’s far from the end of the 5G story.

“[5G] is the technology that we should be applying in the marketplace now. 6G is 2030 or 2030+. It’s still a long, long way to deployment. Now is the right time to start fundamental research, but it’s absolutely the wrong time for standardisation or anywhere near standardisation or market,” he said. “Smart Networks and Services is not just 6G. There is also a strand on exactly that 5G evolution, for exactly that reason, that we need to maximise the potential of 5G. We need to make sure it meets those visions, those dreams we had for it at the beginning.”

EC Deputy Director-General Khalil Rouhana agreed with the assessment. Talking on behalf of the Commission at a recent Renew Europe webinar entitled “Towards 6G- Why and how?” Rouhana called Europe one of the first movers in terms of 6G research and development, pointing to investments in SNS and Hexa-X. Being a first mover may not be enough, though.

“We need the rollout of 5G if we want to move to 6G and we cannot be just lagging behind,” he said. “I agree that to move to 6G, based on what we learned from 5G, we need to bring in the vertical users. We need to bring them in up front as well to ensure we have a quick move from the R&D, from the technology development to the application. So, that’s also a work in progress and I hope that we will have these verticals also as part of our joint undertaking in SNS.”

5G IA Expands Membership

Having mainly focused on telecoms in the past, the 5G IA is of note currently expanding its membership in time for SNS, embracing a similar thought process. Willcock said the call for new members mirrors the larger scope of the SNS partnership, which includes aspects of IoT, cloud, AI, and vertical industries. He mentioned that, in addition to the 5G IA, the Alliance for Internet of Things Innovation (AIoTI), the Networked European Software and Services Initiative (NESSI), Cloud Infrastructure Services Providers in Europe (CISPE), and NetWorld2020 are also involved in the partnership proposal process. Altogether, the associations represent over 1,000 organisations from diverse backgrounds.

“[Telecoms is] a vital element, but we also need to take on the other complementary technologies and areas to actually build 6G. So, in many ways the new thing about 6G is that hopefully it won’t have lots of separate silos. We’ll be bringing those things together, things like IoT, things like cloud, things like AI,” he said. “That means that the association and the people involved in the private side also need to be considerably broader.“

With that in mind, following a governing-board election on March 26, 2021, the 5G IA will take the opportunity of the SNS launch to change its name. Willcock, who’s up for re-election for a new two-year-term, said the projected change from “5G IA” simply reflects its broader “church” of members. It gives them each a chance to have their say too.

Feature image courtesy of Den Rise (via Shutterstock).

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