Key drivers and research challenges for 6G

Wednesday, 18 September, 2019

Key drivers and research challenges for 6G

Finland’s 6G Flagship research program has published what is claimed to be the world’s first 6G white paper, opening the floor for defining the 2030 wireless era.

‘Key Drivers and Research Challenges for 6G Ubiquitous Wireless Intelligence’ is based on the views that 70 experts shared during a special workshop at the first 6G Wireless Summit in Finnish Lapland, held in March 2019. The publication focuses on the key drivers, research requirements, challenges and research questions towards 6G.

“As 5G research is maturing and continues to support global standardisation, we must already engage in mapping what 6G can become at its boldest,” said Professor Matti Latva-aho, the director of the 6G Flagship at the University of Oulu, who edited the white paper with Professor Kari Leppänen.

“The bottom line of 6G is data. The way in which data is collected, processed, transmitted and consumed within the wireless network should drive 6G development.”

The publication presents a strong vision of ubiquitous wireless intelligence for 2030. Ubiquitous services will follow users seamlessly, everywhere, and wireless connectivity will be part of critical infrastructure. Furthermore, intelligence will create context-aware smart services and applications for human and non-human users alike.

The white paper is divided into seven themes, listed below.

Societal and business drivers for 6G

Drivers from society, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), will shape 6G. The move towards a data sharing/data market economy will raise issues with data ownership and contractual policies that require special attention. The transition to ever higher frequencies with smaller radio ranges and the increasing role of indoor networks will boost network sharing in cities and indoor spaces, and — especially — drive the ‘local operator’ paradigm. Stakeholder roles in 6G will change compared to the current mobile business ecosystem and new roles will emerge.

6G use cases and new device forms

Smartphones are likely to be replaced by pervasive XR experiences through lightweight glasses delivering unprecedented resolution, frame rates and dynamic range. Telepresence will be made possible by high-resolution imaging and sensing, wearable displays, mobile robots and drones, specialised processors and next-generation wireless networks. Autonomous vehicles for ecologically sustainable transport and logistics are made possible by advances in wireless networks and in distributed artificial intelligence (AI) and sensing.

6G spectrum and KPI targets

6G research should include the challenge of transmitting up to 1 Tbps per user. The utilisation of the spectrum in the THz regime needs to be arranged based on absorption and reflection properties. We also need other key performance indicators (KPIs) besides the technical ones — UN SDGs can no longer be overlooked due to severe global challenges.

Radio hardware progress and challenges

Extended spectrum towards THz enables merging communications and new applications, such as 3D imaging and sensing. New paradigms for transceiver architecture and computing will be needed to achieve 1 Tbps. There are opportunities for semiconductors, optics and new materials in THz applications. Increased complexity will introduce the need for open-source platforms to make the next generation hardware and software solutions happen.

Physical layer and wireless system

Artificial intelligence will play a major role both in link and system level solutions of 6G wireless networks. New grant-free access methods are critical for truly massive machine-type communication. Signal shaping is a way to achieve record-high spectral efficiency. The strongest security protection may be achieved at the physical layer. Backscatter communications using RF power for connectivity and computation may enable hyper-low-power communications. 6G wireless networks may shape the radio environment to their liking.

6G networking

6G needs a network with embedded trust. 6G network should provide proper mitigation and protection from attacks. 6G will create data markets where privacy protection together with clear rules for the market will be key enablers. 6G needs an upgraded networking paradigm moving from best effort to differentiated service quality.

New service enablers

6G is not only about moving data: it will become a framework of services, including communication services. In 6G, all user-specific computation and intelligence may move to the edge cloud. Integration of sensing, imaging and highly accurate positioning capabilities with mobility opens a myriad of new applications in 6G. Trust and privacy are key prerequisites for a successful 6G service platform.

Prof Latva-aho said he wants to make sure that 6G becomes a joint effort of traditional and new stakeholders. The clarification of 6G vision continues in the second 6G Wireless Summit from 17–20 March 2020.

“Company representatives, researchers, decision-makers, and other builders and members of smart society are invited to join our effort,” he said. “Together we can try to make our share so that 6G visions and research directions would respond to United Nations’ sustainable development goals and societal challenges while creating true productivity through radically new technological enablers.

Image caption: Professor Matti Latva-aho.

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