6G will mark the dawn of a machine-driven era, said Professor Mischa Dohler at Kings' College London.
The above headline was the title of the final talk at 5G World in London in September 2021, presented by Mischa Dohler, professor of wireless communications at King’s College London, in which he explained the circumstances demanding 6G and what 6G might entail.
Dohler said the next “G” is inevitable. “It’s almost like the Moore’s Law of telecoms: always gaining some performance improvements. If you look at how data rate increases from generation to generation, something is always multiplied by an order of magnitude. If you start putting numbers together and you try to understand the data density being produced by the systems, you see that 5G is producing something like 10 terabits per second per square kilometer. If you do the math for 6G following these trends, you end up with 10 petabytes per second per square kilometer.”
Dohler then questioned who is actually going to generate that data and who’s going to use it. He doesn’t have an answer, but he said, “My hunch is that machines will require quite a lot of data rate. And I think that the very discrete designing of services by humans for humans, or by humans for machines, will come to an end in 6G. Instead, machines will design services for themselves.
“As a result, rather than having a very discrete spectrum of services, we will have a continuous spectrum of very volatile services,” he added.
The emergence of 6G “will be like the dawn of a machine-driven era,” Dohler said. “The very discrete service spectrum we have in 5G could be augmented in 6G.”
Those changes mean transforming the process of designing the network using artificial intelligence. “This means not humans doing [the design], but actually artificial intelligence starting to design its own network components,” said Dohler. “This is very different from zero-touch networks or self-organizing networking practicums, where humans design a network and then machines configure them. In this case, self-synthesizing networks are designing themselves.
So they’re self-evolving. My dream is really to be able to get networks deployed from research to actual use by consumers, maybe within months, possibly days, and, long-term, even seconds.”
This is part of the work that is being addressed by the new 6G Futures virtual hub, an initiative launched in August by the University of Bristol and King’s College London to develop U.K. research in 6G. Dohler is a co-lead of the hub along with professor Dimitra Simeonidou, director of the University of Bristol’s Smart Internet Lab and co-director of Bristol Digital Futures. Simeonidou said at the launch, “6G will be inherently human-centric and will establish a cyberphysical continuum by delivering real-time sensory information, supporting haptics and holograms.
“This takes us far beyond future- forecasting,” Simeonidou added. “Crucially, this is about having the specialist knowledge and expertise to transform visions into deliverable solutions, accelerate innovation, and make a positive difference to society worldwide.”
Dohler noted at the launch, “We will be developing novel architectures; incorporating federated exchange and self-synthesizing mechanisms; advancing the internet of skills; and embedding blockchain, quantum, and federated AI technologies. But it’s not just pure tech; we’ll be working on co-creation with verticals toward some truly exciting and societally impacting use cases while contributing to policy, alliances, and global standards.”
At 5G World, Dohler also emphasized the need for global low latency. “5G provides low latency, but 6G needs to continue that trajectory to provide global, rather than just local, ultra-low latency.” This is necessary to enable the internet of skills, which enables virtualization of essential skills (for example, in remote robotic surgery).
For example, in a connection between London and Buenos Aires, the latency could be on the order of 100 µs, opening the door to network congestion and application delay. Latency needs to come down significantly in 6G. Dohler said 6G will need to address AI-enabled mobile edge-cloud applications.
In his talk, Dohler then pondered the next “G.” So we asked him specifically about his thoughts about what the future “G’s” might hold. He commented, “I have to admit, I made a prediction that 5G will be our last ‘G.’ Why? Because I’ve seen we have ‘software-ized’ the ecosystem. And I thought it would be straightforward then to innovate in features rather than in big blocks of whatever we do in the ‘G’ generations. However, I have underestimated the amount of work it takes to actually innovate, to get a research idea into something you can deploy in production so that it works with the consumers, so that’s why I came up with this idea of self-synthesizing networks.
“Hence, I think it will probably take us to 7G to kind of consolidate that, and therefore, I think after 7G, 8G will probably be our last ‘G,’ but this time for real,” he concluded.
That may not happen in my lifetime, as 6G is still a few years away. But if it results in faster innovation enabled by AI creating self-synthesizing networks, as Dohler suggests, then I might just be wrong, and 7G might follow soon after.
This article was originally published on EE Times Europe.
Nitin Dahad is a correspondent for EE Times, EE Times Europe and also Editor-in-Chief of embedded.com. With 35 years in the electronics industry, he’s had many different roles: from engineer to journalist, and from entrepreneur to startup mentor and government advisor. He was part of the startup team that launched 32-bit microprocessor company ARC International in the US in the late 1990s and took it public, and co-founder of The Chilli, which influenced much of the tech startup scene in the early 2000s. He’s also worked with many of the big names—including National Semiconductor, GEC Plessey Semiconductors, Dialog Semiconductor and Marconi Instruments.