The difference between 5G and 6G lies not only in the collection of bandwidths that will make up the future of 6G and how users connect to the network, but also in the intelligence built into the network and devices. “The set of networks that will make up the fabric of 6G must behave differently with an augmented reality (AR) headset than an e-mail client on the ground,” said Shahriar Shahramian, research lead at Nokia Bell Labs. mobile device. “Communication service providers need to solve a lot of technical challenges to make the many types of networks based on different technologies work seamlessly,” he said. Devices will have to switch between different frequencies, adjust data rates, and adapt to the needs of a specific application, which may be running locally, on the edge of the cloud, or on a public services.
“One of the complexities of 6G will be, how do we bring the different wireless technologies together so that they can transfer to each other and work together really effectively,” said Shahramian. without the end user knowing about it. “That’s the hard part.”
While current 5G networks allow consumers to experience more seamless processing as devices move across different networks – delivering higher bandwidth and lower latency – 6G will also usher in a self-aware networks have the potential to support and facilitate emerging technologies that are struggling to get a foothold today—such as virtual and augmented reality and self-driving cars. Artificial intelligence and machine learning, which will be integrated into 5G as that standard evolves into 5G-Advanced, will be architected to 6G from the outset to simplify engineering tasks, for example such as radio signal optimization and efficient data traffic scheduling.
“Finally these [technologies] two Nokia researchers wrote in a post about the future of AI and ML in communication networks. “Instead of engineers telling … nodes of the network how they can communicate, those nodes can determine for themselves — choosing from millions of possible configurations — the best possible way to communicate.”
Testing technology doesn’t exist yet
While the technology is still nascent, it’s very complex, so it’s clear that testing will play an important role in this process. “Companies creating test platforms for 6G face the simple fact that 6G is an aspirational goal and not yet a real-world specification,” says Jue. He continued, “The complexity of the network required to realize the 6G vision will require iterative and comprehensive testing of all aspects of the ecosystem; but since 6G is a nascent networking concept, the tools and technologies to get there need to be adaptive and flexible.”
Even determining what bandwidth to use and for what application will require a lot of research. Second- and third-generation mobile networks use low- and mid-range wireless bands, with frequencies up to 2.6GHz. The next generation, 4G, extended that to 6Ghz, while the current technology, 5G, took it even further, adding so-called “mmWave” (millimeter wave) up to 71GHz.
To power the necessary bandwidth requirements of 6G, Nokia and Keysight are working together to study the sub-terahertz spectrum for communication, which raises new technical problems. Usually, the higher the frequency of the mobile spectrum, the wider the contiguous bandwidths available and thus the greater the data rate; but this comes at the cost of reducing range for a specific signal strength. For example, a low-power wi-fi network using the 2.6Ghz and 5Ghz bands has a range in tens of meters, but a mobile network using 800Mhz and 1.9Ghz has a range in kilometers. The addition of 24-71GHz in 5G means even smaller link cells (tens to hundreds of meters). And for bands above 100GHz, the challenges are even more significant.
“That will have to change,” says Jue. One of the key new elements of 6G could be the move from the millimeter-wave bands used in 5G to the relatively unexplored, sub-terahertz bands for wireless communication, he said. “These bands have the potential to provide broad spectrum that can be used for high data throughput applications, but they also have a lot of unknowns.”
Adding sub-terahertz bands to the toolbox of wireless communication devices could open up huge networks of sensors, high-fidelity augmented reality, and locally networked vehicles, if technology companies can overcome the challenges.
In addition to different spectrum bands, current ideas for future 6G networks will have to use new network architectures and better security and reliability methods. Additionally, devices will need additional sensors and processing capabilities to adapt to network conditions and optimize communications. To do all of this, 6G will require an artificial intelligence and machine learning foundation to manage the complexity and interactions between every part of the system.
“Every time you introduce a new wireless technology, each time you introduce a new spectrum, you make your problem exponentially more difficult,” said Nokia’s Shahramian.
Nokia is expected to start rolling out 6G technology by 2030. As the definition of 6G is still fluid, development and testing platforms need to support a wide range of devices and applications, and they must suitable for many use cases. Furthermore, today’s technology may not even support the requirements needed to test potential 6G applications, requiring companies like Keysight to create new testing platforms and adapt them to new technologies. request for change.
Simulation technologies being developed and used today, such as digital twins, will be used to create adaptive solutions. This technology allows real-world data from physical prototypes to be integrated back into the simulation, resulting in future designs that perform better in the real world.
However, while real physical data is needed to create accurate simulations, digital twins will allow companies to develop more agile technology, said Keysight’s Jue. .
Simulation helps avoid many time-consuming and interactive design steps that can slow down development based on successive physical prototypes.
“Really, the key here is a high degree of flexibility and making it possible for customers to start doing their research and testing, while providing the flexibility to change and navigate through it. , as technology evolves,” said Jue. “So starting to explore the design in a simulation and then combining that flexible simulation environment with a scalable sub-THz experiment for 6G research will help provide that flexibility. “
Nokia’s Shahramian agrees that this is a long process, but the goal is clear “For the technology cycle, a decade is a long loop. However, for the complex technology systems of 6G, 2030 is still a positive target. To meet the challenge, development and testing tools must match the agility of engineers working to create the next network. The award is significant — a fundamental change to the way we interact with devices and what we do with technology.”
This content is produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by the editorial board of the MIT Technology Review.