It’s About Time to Begin Foundational 6G Research

Article By : Dan Jones

Nokia, Microsoft, and Qualcomm executives presented at the Brooklyn 6G Summit.

The Brooklyn 6G Summit (B6GS) is an academic conference sponsored by Nokia that is held every year at the New York University (NYU) Tandon School of Engineering in Downtown Brooklyn.

This live event first started in 2014, when it was called the Brooklyn 5G summit. The symposium skipped 2020 while the Covid pandemic was raging, going virtual in 2021 as the renamed B6GS event. 2022 was the first time in two years that the summit was held in person.

Qualcomm’s John Smee presents at B6GS. (Photo by Dan Jones)

Executives from Nokia, Microsoft, and Qualcomm, among others, presented at the show.

“We’re predicting the [initial] 6G work items will be in Release 21,” said John Smee, senior vice president of engineering and head of wireless research at Qualcomm, during his presentation at the summit.

Release 21 is still a number of years away. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards body just completed Release 17 of the 5G standard in March 2022.

In fact, Smee and many others at the event don’t expect to see any commercial 6G networks or devices until 2030. Despite this, quite a few vendors are already talking about extended reality (XR), the metaverse, and other amazing technologies that 6G will enable.

5G-Advanced

Research into 5G-Advanced has already commenced, although the standard won’t be commercial for several more years.

“So we’re starting now on 5G-Advanced,” Smee said. “Releases 18, 19, and 20 are the next big steps in 5G.

“When we look at the timeline, it’s important to understand we’re already part of Release 18,” he added. Work on the 3GPP’s latest 5G specification — Release 18, which is the first to be considered 5G-Advanced — is ongoing.

Release 18 is expected to be fully frozen in March 2024, so commercial 5G-Advanced devices could arrive 12 to 18 months after that, either in the middle of 2025 or early in 2026.

6G beginnings

“It’s already the time to really begin that foundational 6G research,” Smee said. Although he can’t predict what the 6G use cases are going to be, Smee said the industry knows that it needs to improve on the network and device side.

The Qualcomm head notes that 6G will need to be greener and much more energy-efficient than current cellular networks.

Smee said that part of the vision of 6G will include expanding the framework of cellular standards so that XR can be used in both business and gaming environments. In part, that will involve how much artificial intelligence there is on-device, Smee said. He predicted that the role of compute at the edge of the network and in devices is going to substantially change in the next five years. “A lot of this processing is moving toward the edge,” he said.

Gigantic MIMO and other technologies

“With every ‘G,’ you need to have radio,” Smee said.

At this year’s summit, there were extensive discussions about the radio bands between 7 GHz and 24 GHz. These mid- to high-band frequencies need large antennas that the industry is starting to refer to as gigantic multiple input, multiple output (MIMO).

5G MIMO arrays today, which are often called massive MIMO, use 16 to 64 antenna elements. This number would expand with 5G-Advanced and 6G.

“So we call that gigantic MIMO at Qualcomm,” Smee said. It increases your ability to leverage even more antenna elements to have wide area coverage. He could not predict exactly how many transmit and receive elements a gigantic MIMO antenna array would entail.

6G is expected to use even higher spectrum than the 28-GHz and 39-GHz millimeter bands that are being utilized in parts of Asia and the United States. Smee highlighted the role of sub-terahertz communication. He said there are important investigations into bands at the 140-GHz level and above.

This ability to leverage terahertz bands for radio-frequency (RF) sensing is a new 6G development. “So having a better physical understanding of the RF environment, mapping that back to a digital understanding of the physical environment — that’s how that value starts getting created for artificial reality,” Smee said.

Is it a metaverse?

Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark talks metaverse. (Photo by Dan Jones)

Multiple speakers at the summit talked about 6G as a platform for the metaverse. The metaverse started life as a science-fiction term but for many vendors is now business jargon that seems to mean a digital world interlaced with virtual reality.

Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark started the event rhapsodizing about building the metaverse. He insisted the metaverse will be a multi-vendor affair that will require 6G. There will be separate consumer, enterprise, and industrial parts to this virtual landscape, Lundmark said.

“The enterprise metaverse is where you design it; the industrial metaverse is where you build it,” he said.

IDC analyst Phil Solis said that metaverse is “not dependent” on 5G or 6G. “A lot of it will be over Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7,” he said.

“Metaverse,” in this sense, is purely a marketing term. We don’t even know if it will be common usage by the time we reach 2030.

 

This article was originally published on EE Times.

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