In February, US president Donald Trump sent out a tweet which demanded the United States be at the forefront of emerging technology innovation amid a turbulent wireless industry landscape. In that month alone, aside from the ongoing Huawei saga, Verizon touted an edge computing solution as a way to reduce 5G latency, while Sprint and AT&T were at loggerheads over alleged misleading 5G-E branding.
The problem was that the Trump tweet looked a little too far forward.
“I want 5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible,” the president wrote. “It is far more powerful, faster, and smarter than the current standard. American companies must step up their efforts, or get left behind.”
The reference to 6G, lumped in with the already next-gen 5G, was roundly sniggered at by those in the industry. Yet at the time, this publication editorialised that while the message might have been off, the focus was correct in that exploratory steps were being taken towards a formative sixth generation.
Chief among these was an initiative at the upcoming MWC19 event in Barcelona, where a Finnish university was hosting a ‘6G flagship’ get-together, touting itself as the world’s first 6G research and innovation centre.
Well, that research and innovation centre, at the University of Oulu, has this week published what is claimed to be the world’s first 6G whitepaper, outlining the key drivers, research requirements and challenges.
The report outlines a tentative roadmap towards ‘ubiquitous wireless intelligence’ for 2030. “The bottom line of 6G is data,” said Matti Latva-aho, director of 6G Flagship at the University of Oulu and co-editor of the whitepaper. “The way in which data is collected, processed, transmitted and consumed within the wireless network should drive 6G development.”
This sounds not dissimilar to any mission statement you could wheel out from a vendor promising the benefits of 5G. So what is different here?
For a start, the researchers predict the form in which we consume super-speed connectivity will be transformed in a generation. “Smartphones are likely to be replaced by pervasive XR [extended reality] experiences through lightweight glasses delivering unprecedented resolution, frame rates, and dynamic range,” the Flagship team notes. “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 AI and sensing,” the researchers add.
Another prognostication is that edge computing, with which many networking practitioners are currently grappling, will become ubiquitous. “In 6G, all user-specific computation and intelligence may move to the edge cloud,” the researchers note. “Integration of sensing, imaging and highly accurate positioning capabilities with mobility opens a myriad of new applications in 6G.”
In total, the whitepaper runs through seven areas of impact, from new services and device forms to spectrum and hardware demands. “Together we can try to make our share [of work] so that 6G visions and research directions would respond to [the] United Nations sustainable development goals and societal challenges while creating true productivity through radically new technological enablers,” the team adds.
This is by no means the only research effort taking place. Samsung launched a 6G research lab in Seoul in June, with Huawei doing the same last month in Ottawa. The triumvirate of Nokia, Ericsson and SK Telecom, meanwhile, are researching 6G along with other very nascent concepts, from distributed multiple input multiple output (MIMO) to AI in networks.
The Oulu 6G flagship team, consisting primarily of Latva-aho and fellow professor Kari Leppänen, will be at next year’s MWC, as well as at their own event in Finland next March – so watch this space.
You can read the full whitepaper here (pdf, no opt-in).
Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located 5G Expo, IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo, and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam.