A review of the current status
Not much is defined yet around 6G. It is hard to draw the line between 5G and 6G, and the nomenclature of 3GPP defining 5G enhancements and 5G advanced capabilities from Release 17 to Release 20 does not help in clarifying the borders between the generations either. Resolving this requires a consensus about the societal, market and operational needs that the 6th generation mobile network should meet and that clearly go beyond what 5G can deliver today or will deliver in the next few years.
In this context, it is worthwhile analysing the plethora of 6G white papers that have been published. The motivation for these white papers is driven by research interest, company expectations, or long-term government plans aiming to establish a long-term roadmap. However, it is very difficult at this stage to conclude on a single unified landscape of needs, requirements and expectations. In addition, several funding agencies around the world have started to fund projects and initiatives on 6G.
One of the first 6G white papers that received global attention was published in 2019 by the University of Oulu in Finland. The initiative evolved into the 6G Flagship, which is today facilitating the work of 12 expert groups on selected 6G topics with the goal of consolidating opinions and publishing them in a series of 6G white papers. According to the 6G Flagship, more than 250 experts from 100 organisations in over 30 countries contributed to the 6G Flagship white papers.
Ericsson outlines in its white papers a combination of technology push, expectations pull and new emerging use cases. Nokia defines the technological areas that will require significant advances to meet 6G requirements. Samsung provides an initial set of key performance indicators and how they compare to 5G. Many telecommunication operators like Deutsche Telekom, BT, Vodafone, Orange, China Mobile, NTT Docomo and others have published their own visions of 6G or channelled their opinions through alliances and collaborations like the NGMN Alliance (Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance). The common denominator is that they put the technology evolution in the context of resolving societal issues.
Emerging commonalities in the use cases can be seen for the areas of extreme reality, holographic applications, precision sensing and actuation, human machine interfaces, and digital replicas of physical world artefacts.
Programmes and initiatives
In general, I observe that many formulated visions are positioning 6G as a tool that must address the societal needs and the sustainable development goals (SDGs) formulated by the United Nations. The 5G PPP project Hexa-X is one of the main efforts to develop so-called key value indicators (KVIs), derived from the SDGs, and finally to translate these into concrete technical requirements and performance indicators for designing the 6th generation mobile network. The same path has been established by the 6G Drivers and Visions white paper published by the NGMN Alliance, which sets the basic framework for the formulation of 6G use cases and is work in progress.
The latest batch of 5G PPP projects started in the beginning of 2021 in the scope of beyond 5G. These projects address a variety of technology topics ranging from new waveforms, channel propagation models for THz frequencies, accurate positioning, energy efficiency, extreme reliability, extreme bandwidth transport, in-network computing for artificial intelligence and machine learning, and many others.
The Horizon Europe programme puts the work on 6G under the heading Smart Networks and Services (SNS), which is planned to be launched shortly with the establishment of the SNS Joint Undertaking. The targeted public research and innovation investment is 900 million euro over the budget period 2021-2027. The German government has launched a large 6G programme with an estimated budget in excess of 600 million euro in the period 2021-2025. An initial portion of estimated 200 million euro has already been granted to several large projects called 6G hubs with the ambition of creating the basis for an innovation ecosystem for future communication technologies around 6G.
Other world regions have published their own 6G visions and partly have launched similarly ambitious programmes. Japan’s NICT has released white papers on beyond 5G/6G and quantum networks. Reported plans for China state ambitions for commercialisation of 6G technologies by 2030. In the U.S., the alliance for telecommunications industry solutions (ATIS), a telecom standards body, launched the Next G Alliance in 2020 to advance North American leadership in 6G. South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT established a 6G research and development implementation plan that calls for investing around 200 million dollars by 2025. Finally, the European Space Agency has started a study for a space-based infrastructure, which, albeit carrying 5G in its name, has a long-term ambition to embrace emerging 6G concepts.
The list of existing initiatives, white papers, programmes and plans is much longer, and many more initiatives are underway. Global convergence on visions, requirements and roadmaps has already started in alliances and forums that will propagate in the next few years into the main standards body, namely 3GPP. We should expect exciting developments on all fronts and from all regions. Of particular importance to Europe is, whether the efforts become instrumental to meet high-level policy objectives, such as those formulated in the context of the Green New Deal, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the European technological sovereignty discussion.
– 6G Flagship – https://www.oulu.fi/6gflagship/
– Hexa-X project – https://hexa-x.eu/
– NGMN Alliance – https://www.ngmn.org/
– 5G PPP Smart connectivity beyond 5G projects – https://5g-ppp.eu/5g-ppp-phase-3-6-projects/
– 5G-IS 5G system infrastructure study – https://artes.esa.int/projects/5gis